Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson will explain the differences between HIV and AIDS. We will review differences in what these diseases are, their symptoms, and the ability to treat each.

The Diagnosis

There are many diseases, conditions, and infections that can affect our bodies. You or someone you know has probably been diagnosed with an ailment at some point in life. Think for a minute what it was like to hear that you tested positive for some type of illness. There were probably a few questions going through your head. More questions may arise if you are diagnosed with a disease that is similar to or easily confused with a more serious disease.

Naturally, you would want to know what the medical situation is, its symptoms, and whether or not it is curable. This is especially true if the diagnosis is HIV or AIDS. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. It is important to know the differences between these two diagnoses.


HIV is short for human immunodeficiency virus. This is a virus that infects the immune system by attaching to the surface of CD4+ T-cells. This attachment prevents the immune cells from being able to attach to invading microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and other viruses.

HIV infects the body by attaching to the T-cells of the immune system
Diagram of a T cell

Initially, this attack may not cause much to change in the body. Most people are asymptomatic, meaning they don't have symptoms. Others whose immune system is newly attacked by HIV may experience a flu-like sickness. There have been some reports of pain in the groin area following infection with HIV.

This was once an incurable viral infection; however, there are now medications available to treat this infection. HIV is most effectively treated by giving anti-retroviral medications, which are medications that prevent the viruses from incorporating themselves into our DNA. HIV is most successfully treated soon after infection, with the optimal time period being within a few weeks of infection.


AIDS is an abbreviation for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. This is basically the late stage of an untreated HIV infection. At this point, the immune system has been fully attacked and is no longer able to protect the body from invading microbes.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome
Picture of AIDS word art

Some of the earlier symptoms of AIDS may include:

  • seizures,
  • skin cancers,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • loss of vision,
  • lack of coordination,
  • difficulty thinking and remembering,
  • nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • rapid and sometimes extreme weight loss.

As AIDS progresses, other symptoms that may appear include:

  • getting sick more often,
  • short-term sicknesses (such as colds lasting longer than usual),
  • bruising and injury occur easier,
  • sores and other bodily injuries take longer to heal or won't heal at all,
  • pneumonia, and
  • coma.

Pneumonia is a common symptom of an opportunistic infection of AIDS
Diagram of pneumonia

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