Living with HIV/AIDS  

Defining and Diagnosing HIV

To diagnose an HIV infection, healthcare providers examine a person's blood or body tissues for the virus using tests designed and licensed for this purpose. A person who has HIV in his or her body is said to be HIV positive (HIV+). Because HIV causes subtle changes in the immune system long before the infected person feels sick, the term "HIV Disease" is used to cover the time spanning from initial infection with the HIV virus to the diagnosis of AIDS.

AIDS is the late stage of infection with HIV. In the absence of HIV treatment, most, if not all, HIV+ people will develop AIDS.

Diagnosing AIDS

To diagnose AIDS in the United States, healthcare workers use criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People are diagnosed with AIDS if they are HIV+ and have at least one of certain diseases, called opportunistic infections, which take advantage of HIV+ people's weakened immune system. There are 26 opportunistic diseases associated with AIDS, including pneumonia, Karposi's sarcoma, invasive cervical cancer, and pulmonary tuberculosis (that is, tuberculosis of the lungs). People are also diagnosed with AIDS if they are HIV+ and have very low levels of certain kinds of immune cells called T-cells.

People with AIDS are often called just that, or by the acronym "PWAs." In recent years, the more optimistic term "People Living With AIDS" (PLWAs) has become preferred by some AIDS activist groups.

© Sociometrics Corporation, 2004