Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

It is important to understand the difference between being HIV positive and being diagnosed with AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). A positive HIV test result does not mean that a person has AIDS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a diagnosis of AIDS is made when HIV infection has been confirmed by repeated screenings and the CD4+ cell (immune system helper cells that help fight infection) count is below 200 or an HIV-related syndrome (e.g., opportunistic infection, or AIDS-related cancer) is present.

HIV infection weakens the immune system and causes difficulty preventing certain infections. These infections are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the weakened immune system to cause illness.

Many infections that develop in people with AIDS and may be life threatening can be controlled by a healthy immune system. The immune system of a person with AIDS is so weak that medical intervention is necessary to prevent or treat serious illness.

In many cases, medical treatment can slow the rate at which HIV weakens the immune system and can prevent or cure some of the illnesses associated with AIDS. As with other diseases, early detection provides more options for treatment and preventative care. There is no cure for AIDS.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Nov 2007

Last Modified: 12 Aug 2015