LivingWhat is the difference between AIDS and HIV?

What is the difference between AIDS and HIV?

There are many diseases, many viruses and many medical conditions that have their own names or that are called differently depending on the country of origin. Adjectives that a priori have nothing to do with the disease they are talking about and the most varied diagnoses.

It is not surprising that with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) something similar happens.

But why are we talking about this today?

Well, because on February 8, 2022, Dr. Luc Montagnier left us, a virologist who, together with his research team, discovered HIV in 1983.

And hey, it’s a good thing they gave it this name, since a year later the team of the American researcher Robert Gallo, confirming the discovery of the virus responsible for AIDS, decided to baptize it again with the name “type III T-lymphotropic virus ( HTLV-III)”. And, I don’t know, call me crazy, but HIV seems so much easier to remember.

Out of curiosity, let me tell you that the name AIDS or in English Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), was definitively incorporated in 1982, and some names were discarded, such as Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID).

Ok, we already have the historical facts, we have already centered the story and we already know why the people of Muy Interesante have decided to bring us the topic of HIV and AIDS. But why is it important for me to know the difference?

Besides because it could help you answer a trivia question well, because it’s crucial to understanding the world we live in. Today, becoming infected with HIV can be traumatic, but nothing to do with what happened a few years ago. Knowledge of the routes of transmission, the different methods to prevent infection and the innumerable treatments that are emerging every day have managed to turn HIV infection into a chronic disease.

What’s more, did you know that a large pharmaceutical company has recently started human studies for an HIV vaccine using mRNA technology? Amazing!

Okay, but let’s center the shots.


What exactly is AIDS?

Once we are clear that a person who becomes infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will be called an “HIV-infected person”, let’s talk about what AIDS is.

To be more exact and precise (as a good scientific communicator I have to be), we would be talking about a spectrum of diseases caused by HIV. Here we really open a pandora’s box, and since we are, let’s talk about them.

To differentiate them, today we divide them into three groups: Category A, B and C.

And to spin even finer, let me bring CD4 T cells to today’s article. These friends, also known colloquially as T4 lymphocytes, are white blood cells that fight infection and are essential in the immune system. Knowing the amount of CD4 in the body is essential for people infected with HIV.

And of course, now I have left you wanting to know why they are important. Well, I’ll go and tell you. HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells. The problem really comes when too many CD4s are lost, as the immune system has serious problems fighting infections. No CD4, no defenses, therefore more vulnerable to infections and quite complicated diseases.

And depending on the amount of CD4 that we have in the body, we can suffer from one type of infection or another. To make this more clear, and as Jack the Ripper said, let’s go by parts (or let’s talk about the 3 main categories):

Category A (if your CD4 is more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter): they are usually patients with primary infection or asymptomatic.

Category B (your CD4 is between 200 – 499 cells per cubic millimeter): patients who have or have had symptoms that do not belong to category C, but are related to HIV infection.

Category C (your DCs are below 200 cells per cubic millimeter): people who present or have presented some complications included in the 1987 WHO definition of AIDS.

Now, you could throw me articles and articles talking about each of the Category C diseases (such as some types of specific tumors, syndromes typical of HIV infection) but let’s not get lost in the bush.

To resolve the eternal question of when can we talk about AIDS? Let’s do it with a short and clear answer: We can talk about an AIDS diagnosis when people have a CD4 count below 200 cells/mm or when they start to present certain opportunistic infections or category C diseases.

I hope that the difference between HIV and AIDS has finally become clear to you and if you ever hear someone use the (non-interchangeable) terms incorrectly, explain to them why we should not use them as synonyms and help them understand this branch of knowledge more. so beautiful: Medicine.




Popovic M, Sarngadharan MG, Read E, Gallo RC (1984). «Detection, isolation, and continuous production of cytopathic retroviruses (HTLV-III) from patients with AIDS and pre-AIDS». Science 224 (4648): 497-500. PMID 6200935. doi:10.1126/science.6200935. 

Montagnier L. (2002) Historical essay. A History of HIV Discovery. Science 298(5599): 1727-8 (29 November). doi 10.1126/science.1079027 PMID 12459575 Gallo RC. (2002) Historical essay. The Early Years of HIV/AIDS. Science 298(5599): 1728-30 (29 November). doi 10.1126/science.1078050 PMID 12459576 Gallo RC & Montagnier L. (2002) Historical essay. Prospects for the Future. Science 298(5599): 1730-1 (29 November). doi 10.1126/science.1079864 PMID 12459577 

Colvin, C.J. HIV/AIDS, chronic diseases and globalisation. Global Health 7, 31 (2011).

Sepkowitz KA (junio de 2001). «AIDS—the first 20 years». N. Engl. J. Med. 344 (23): 1764-72. PMID 11396444. doi:10.1056/NEJM200106073442306. 

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