HIV & AIDS 101


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the end-stage result of HIV infection. By the time someone develops AIDS, the virus has significantly damaged the body's defenses (immune system). Thus, people with AIDS develop diseases that most healthy people can normally resist or control. Since the virus can enter the brain and other organs throughout the body, many people with AIDS have trouble with movement, memory and body functions.

  • Acquired: A disease which is acquired through specific actions or behaviors. Not innate.
  • Immune: The body's basic defense system, which helps regulate organisms in the body, defend against new infections, and help us to rebound when sickness does occur.
  • Deficiency: AIDS causes a weakening of a person's immune response.
  • Syndrome: A group of symptoms or illnesses that affect people with AIDS. AIDS is not a disease itself, only a classification of HIV disease.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is the virus that causes AIDS.

  • Human: HIV is a human virus. It can only be acquired through HUMAN contact. It is not spread to or from any animal.
  • Immunodeficiency: HIV attacks a person's immune system and causes a deficiency in a person's immune response.
  • Virus: HIV is a virus. Viruses are the smallest known disease causing agents.


  • A Person With AIDS (PWA) is simply a person living with this disease, and should not be referred to as an AIDS "victim" or "patient."

Disease Progression

  • Initial Infection: The point of infection is when the virus enters the body and takes hold. A person is infectious to others the moment she/he becomes infected. Most healthy people have between 800 and 1200 T-cells at this time.
  • Window Period: A person can be infected with HIV and still test negative during the window period since it often takes 3-6 months after becoming infected with HIV to receive a positive test result. It can take 3-6 months for a person's antibodies to be in sufficient numbers to detect (hence the name HIV antibody test). T-cells remain at normal levels during this period.
  • Asymptomatic HIV: This is the period of time when a person is infected with HIV but shows no obvious signs or symptoms. A person with HIV infection is often completely healthy throughout this period with a T-cell count of over 500. This period is variable in length, but can often last from 8 - 15 years.
  • Symptomatic HIV: During this period a person develops clear symptoms of immune deficiency that are not severe enough for an AIDS diagnosis. These symptoms don't appear in everyone and begin to occur when a person's T-cell count drops below 500. This period is extremely variable in length. Some common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, rashes, and weight loss.
  • AIDS: AIDS is the end stage of HIV disease and is characterized by major defects in the immune system and/or the presence of opportunistic infections. An AIDS diagnosis occurs when a person's T-cell levels drop below 200 or one or more opportunistic infections occur. Some opportunistic infections include: Kaposi's Sarcoma, Tuberculosis, cancers, CMV, and PCP (pneumocystis carinii pneumonia). These infections often lead to death in a person with AIDS.


HIV can be transmitted when an infected body fluid from one individual enters the bloodstream of another. Four body fluids have been identified as the primary source of HIV transmission. These fluids are: blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. The most common way that people become infected with HIV include:

  • Unprotected Sex: Vaginal, oral or anal intercourse with someone who has the virus.
  • Sharing Needles: Using needles that have been used by someone else.
  • Mother to Infant: Exposure of a baby to an infected mother's blood during pregnancy or delivery, or through breast feeding.
  • Blood Transfusions: Blood transfusions are largely a historical concern. Blood transfusions, blood components or blood clotting factors or organ transplants have been very safe since HIV testing of these products began in 1985.

More information on HIV and AIDS:


STI/STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection/Disease. STIs are illnesses that have a significantly high probability of transmission by means of sexual contact, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. Some STIs can also be transmitted through the use of an IV drug needle with an infected person and through childbirth or breastfeeding.

Facts You Should Know

Chlamydia: the majority of people with chlamydia have no symptoms. If they do occur it's usually 1-3 weeks after infection. Abnormal genital discharge and burning during urination could occur in both men and women with chlamydia, as well as pain, swelling, or itching. Luckily, once diagnosed, treatment is a single dose of antibiotics.

Fact sheets: English / Spanish

Genital Herpes: you can contract genital herpes even if your partner does not have a outbreak. There is no cure for herpes but there is treatment to reduce the symptoms and outbreaks. Symptoms are rare, but when they do occur they may appear as one or more blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth in both men and women. The blisters break and leave sores that can take between two to four weeks to heal.

Fact sheets: English / Spanish

Genital Warts: caused by some types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps around the genitals in both women and men. They range in size from small to large, raised or flat. They can appear within weeks or months after infection. Genital warts can be passed from one partner to another even if there are no signs of an outbreak. The HPV strain that causes genital warts is not the same strain that can lead to cancer. You may be infected with multiple strains, including a genital warts strain and a cancer causing strain.

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Gonorrhea: symptoms from gonorrhea, when they occur, are often very mild. They may include burning during urination, abnormal discharge from the vagina, penis, or rectum, pain, swelling, and vaginal bleeding in between periods in women. Gonorrhea can be treated and cured with the proper antibiotics.

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Syphilis: syphilis can be cured in it's early stages, but left untreated can cause severe, irreversible neurological damage. Symptoms include a firm, round, small, and painless sore on the site of contact. You may also experience a rash on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Fact sheets: English / Spanish

Additional STI Information

  • American Sexual Health Association: Find accurate facts and information about STI’s, prevention hotlines, resource centers and research, chat rooms and more.
  • Medline Plus - STD: Many links and web searches regarding STD prevention, transmission, research, education, and statistics. Also has many great links for clinical trials, STD glossaries and dictionaries.
  • CDC - STD Prevention: National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Gateway to many CDC links for STD prevention news, disease facts, and treatment.