HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. When the virus gets inside our bodies, it begins to copy itself and damage the immune system. Over a period of years, HIV weakens the body’s immune system to the point where it may no longer be able to fight infections.
HIV is transmitted through five body fluids: blood, semen (including pre-cum), vaginal and anal secretions, and breast milk. Saliva, tears, and urine can have the virus in them, but the concentrations are so small that the risk of transmission is extremely low. However, if any body fluid is mixed with blood, the risk increases.
Once HIV takes hold in the body, it starts doing serious damage to the immune system. Often, there are no external signs or symptoms for many years. People who feel and appear perfectly healthy may unknowingly pass the virus to others.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS is a medical condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and can be understood as the advanced stage of an HIV infection.
When HIV has seriously weakened a person’s immune system, the body becomes especially vulnerable to many different illnesses. In Canada, an AIDS diagnosis is given when a person living with HIV has developed one or more specific infections or cancers.
The specific infections and cancers associated with AIDS are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the body's weakened immune system. It may be many years after HIV infection before a person develops an opportunistic infection (also called AIDS-related illness) and receives an AIDS diagnosis.
Remember that HIV/AIDS has no cure and is 100% preventable. A few precautions can keep you protected.