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What is HIV

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HIV is a virus. It is also a rapidly spreading virus that is being newly diagnosed every day in Ireland. There are many myths about HIV that have developed over the years and because of these myths people who are living with HIV can find it quite difficult to talk about with their friends and family.

Many people think of HIV and AIDS as being the same thing, but they are very different. HIV is a medical condition (the presence of a virus) that can be managed throughout one’s life. It doesn’t have to lead to AIDS if we have access to the correct care, support and medication, we can live long and healthy lives with HIV.

HIV is preventable and with the right kind of knowledge it is possible to minimise each individuals risk to contracting HIV.

HIV is a set of three letters, when put together they stand for:

H = HUMAN – this means only humans can transmit HIV. It is not found in monkeys, birds, cats or dogs. HIV can only be found in people.

I = IMMUNODEFICIENCY – this means a weakening of the immune system. HIV causes a lowering of our ability to fight off other infections. HIV lowers our immunity.

V = VIRUS – this means it is a virus. It is not a disease, it is not a cancer. HIV is a viral infection.

So…HIV is a virus that lowers the human immune system.

HIV is a virus that copies itself into the cells of your immune system. These cells remain infected for the rest of their life. There is no way to remove the HIV from the cells of your body once it has copied itself into them. There is medication which can slow down the rate at which HIV is able to make further copies. For more information please see our treatment page of this HIV section.

In order for HIV to grow in your body it first has to get there. This is called ‘HIV Transmission’ or ‘Contracting HIV’.

Once HIV is present in your body it will begin to slowly disrupt your immune system. HIV can put our immune system out of balance by decreasing the amount of white blood cells (CD4 cells) in our blood. This makes it harder for us to naturally fight off infections like colds and flu.

If we live with HIV without knowing it, or without being able to get or take the medication, then we may find it impossible to get better from colds, flu’s, stomach upsets and other illnesses. Once we can no longer heal ourselves because of the very low level of white blood cells in our body (low CD4 count) then we may receive a diagnosis of AIDS.

If we do not respond to medication at this stage we may die from AIDS related illness.

AIDS is set of four letters, when put together they stand for:

A = AQUIRED – this means it has to come from somewhere. It is not something we wake up in the morning to find we have developed over night. AIDS is a direct result of living with HIV and either having no access to medication or not responding to medication.

I = IMMUNE – this means your immune system which gives you the ability to fight off any germ, bug or virus that may cause you illness.

D = DEFICIENCY – this means it causes you to have less than is needed. Your immune system is worn down over time so you lack the ability to fight off infections.

S = SYNDROME – this is when we have a few (or collection) of signs and symptoms (or illnesses) which indicate we have reached the stage of being diagnosed with AIDS.

So…..AIDS is when we have a few illnesses that would indicate our immune system is lacking the ability to fight off any infections because we have been living with HIV for some time.