HIV and AIDS | Overview


What is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the body's immune system. A healthy immune system is what keeps you from getting sick.

Because HIV damages your immune system, you are more likely to get sick from bacteria and viruses. It is also harder for your body to fight off these infections when you do get them, so you may have trouble getting better. HIV is the condition that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

What is AIDS?

AIDS is a progression of HIV. When HIV moves into its final stages, it is considered to be AIDS. People who have AIDS are at an even higher risk of getting sick, and their bodies are even less able to fight off infections than people who have HIV. They usually die of an infection or cancer.

What is HIV syndrome?

HIV syndrome is a name for the early stage of HIV infection, when a person is first infected with HIV.

What happens after a person gets HIV?

After being infected with HIV, your body works hard to attack the virus. With your body fighting, the virus can't make as many copies of itself. Even though you still have HIV, you'll begin to look well and feel well again. The usual blood tests will be normal.

However, during this time, the virus is still attacking your lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are the centers of your body's immune system. The virus may also attack your brain tissue and slowly cause damage there.

Over 10 to 15 years, HIV kills so many CD4 cells that your body can no longer fight off infections. When your CD4 cell count is 200 or less per mL, you have AIDS (a normal count is 600 to 1000). Once you have AIDS, you can easily catch many serious infections.


How to Recognize and Treat Acute HIV Syndrome by BL Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., JB Glaser, M.D., and SO Oyugi, M.D. (American Family Physician August 01, 1999,

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 01/96