Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The virus weakens a person's ability to fight infections and cancer. People with HIV are said to have AIDS when they develop certain infections or cancers or when their CD4 (T-cell) count is less than 200. CD4 count is determined by a blood test in a doctor's office.
Having HIV does not always mean that you have AIDS. It can take many years for people with the virus to develop AIDS. HIV and AIDS cannot be cured. However, with the medications available today, it is possible to have a normal lifespan with little or minimal interruption in quality of life. There are ways to help people stay healthy and live longer.
HIV attacks and destroys a type of white blood cell called a CD4 cell, commonly called the T-cell. This cell's main function is to fight disease. When a person's CD4 cell count gets low, they are more susceptible to illnesses.
What Is AIDS?
AIDS is the more advanced stage of HIV infection. When the immune system CD4 cells drop to a very low level, a person's ability to fight infection is lost. In addition, there are several conditions that occur in people with HIV infection with this degree of immune system failure -- these are called AIDS-defining illnesses.
According to the CDC, about 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with the HIV infection and there are about 50,000 new HIV infections each year.