What is the Meaning of HIV and AIDS?



To better understand what HIV and AIDS is and how they relate it is necessary to look at a few definitions.

What does HIV mean?

HIV is the acronym or abbreviation for Human Immune-deficiency Virus.
You can see we are talking about a virus. This particular virus is found only in human beings and infects only humans. The virus damages the immune system to such an extent that it can no longer effectively protects the body against other infections. This damage leaves the immune system deficient or short of something it needs to protect the body. We will consider this further in the section on the immune system later in the manual.

What does AIDS mean?

AIDS is the acronym or abbreviation for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The first thing that must happen is the virus must come from somewhere or someone, it must be acquired. You acquire or get something when you did not have it before.

In the context of AIDS this means that the Immune-deficiency syndrome, or the deficiency in the immune system, was not present in the human body previously. It was acquired, 'got' or picked up, by means of some action. There must be an exposure to the virus due to your personal or someone else's action.

The reason you can get a cold or flu without being involved in any action is that the flu virus is spread through droplets in the air caused when a person with flu coughs or sneezes. Have you had a cold or flu lately? How did you get it?

You personally did nothing to "pick it up", you acquired the cold or flu through no action of your own. It just happened because you had been exposed to the germs floating in the air at your place of work, in your home, at school, in a shopping mall or whatever.

The HI-virus spreads through the exchange of blood, semen and vaginal fluids. In order to become exposed to these fluids a person has to engage in some sort of act or take some action. These acts are normally and predominantly associated with sex and the physical act of sex or making love.

No one is exempt or immune to becoming infected. No one can offer the assurance that infection is not possible for any reason. There are no guarantees. There is no such thing as safe sex. To be safe and to protect yourself from the possibility of infection you can practice safe sex but the safest approach is to avoid sex outside of a permanent relationship. You can protect yourself against infection by choosing not to behave in ways that will expose you to infected body fluids. Be sure - don’t be sorry.


A syndrome refers to " the concurrent symptoms" or characteristics of a disease. It refers to a collection or combination of infections associated with a specific condition.

AIDS is a syndrome. It consists of a combination of specific infections associated with the defective immune system. Since the body is lacking or deficient in something that fights certain diseases, once infected the body can no longer fight these diseases.

Linking the two together

A person is HIV positive when infected with the HI-virus. The virus is present in the blood stream. A blood test is the only way of finding out if you are HIV positive or negative. This is the only way of confirming the presence of the Hi virus.

Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS. There is an important distinction.
When a person has AIDS, it means that the HIV infection has developed to the stage where the person shows a variety of related symptoms and is terminally ill. A person with AIDS will first be infected with the HI virus. You cannot get aids without being HIV positive first. That is why it is important to be tested if you are in any doubt.

Aids will kill everyone who is HIV positive, that is a fact. Life can be prolonged if a person is aware of his/her HIV status.

HIV/AIDS has a life cycle!

In order to understand how HIV lives and interacts in the human body it is necessary to be familiar with it's life cycle. Understanding the life cycle will help you to understand how the different Anti-Retroviral AIDS drugs work and assist in prolonging or extending the life span of an infected person.

Some of the most important cells in the immune system are referred to as CD4 cells. These cells protect us from infections and help other cells fight bacteria and other types of infection. CD4 cells produce antibodies that fight cancers and they coordinate the activities of other cells in the immune system. The HI virus locates and attacks these CD4 cells in order to survive, propagate and grow.

Once the HI-virus has located target cells, it attaches itself to little protruding sections on the surface of these cells called receptors. This process is called binding. It is through this binding process that the virus gains access to the target cells.

Once inside the human cells, the HI virus is able to change its original or genetic form so that it resembles the same form of the human cell. It does this with the help of one of its enzymes. This process is called reverse transcription or copying process.

Reverse transcription results in the virus changing itself all the time, making it difficult for the body’s immune system to fight it.

Now that HIV’s genetic material or original form has been changed, or copied, into the same form as the host cell, it is ready for the next step. It inserts its original or genetic material into the host cell with the help of another one of its enzymes.

An enzyme is a catalyst or 'an agent that assist change'. This process is known as integration and is critical for the survival and multiplication of HIV in its host. The HI virus has now successfully taken over and changed the cell and is now in control of another host cell. Instead of protecting the body against infections the host cell begins producing more HI virus. It has created and developed its own assembly line and conveyor belt system.

Finally a new virus is developed. This is the final step in the life cycle of HIV. This virus is now able to infect new cells. Each infected cell can produce many new viruses.



Written by: W D Squire
Contact Des on 011 884 5456 or [email protected]