For those of you who may already be familiar with HIV/AIDS, I apologize if the below information seems redundant. However, in order to make progress, it is important to first gain a basic understanding of the infection, what it does to the body, and the progression to AIDS.


HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function. Infection with the virus results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to "immune deficiency." The immune system is considered deficient when it can no longer fulfill its role of fighting infection and disease. Infections associated with severe immunodeficiency are known as "opportunistic infections," because they take advantage of a weakened immune system.


AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

  • Acquired – means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease causing agent (in this case, HIV).
  • Immunodeficiency – means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.
  • Syndrome – refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person’s immune system.

Many times, you will hear that someone died of AIDS. That explanation is not entirely accurate. As mentioned above, HIV destroys the human immune system, rendering it powerless to fight infections. Once an infected individual's immune system is completely broken down, and he/she has developed full blown AIDS, the body is now susceptible to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. It is such infections that cause the deaths of those suffering from AIDS, not the syndrome itself. Regrettably, someone with AIDS is unable to fight even the common cold.

*Sources: World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention (CDC)
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