We present this glossary of terms to help us talk to each other, respectfully and well-informed.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is a set of symptoms and illnesses that occur at the very final stage of HIV infection. It’s diagnosed when someone’s immune system is severely damaged, and can no longer fight off infections. AIDS and HIV are not the same.
Antiretroviral treatment (ART)
ART is the treatment for HIV – a combination of three or more antiretroviral drugs that target different stages of the HIV lifecycle.
Your CD4 count is an indication of how healthy your immune system is – it should go up when you have HIV treatment. It’s the number of CD4 cells (or T-helper cells) in your blood, measured by a simple blood test. It’s often talked about at the same time as viral load (the concentration of HIV in your blood): generally when your CD4 count is high, your viral load is low and vice versa.
When a person shares their HIV status, they’re telling someone that they’re HIV positive. (Though the word ‘disclosure’ has been used for a long time in this context, there is now an emphasis on using the words ‘sharing’ or ‘telling’. This is because ‘disclosing’ can often reinforce stigmatizing beliefs that a person has done something wrong if they are living with HIV.)
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It attacks a person’s immune system cells, and if left untreated severely damages their immune system and their ability to fight off infections.
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP is a daily course of antiretroviral drugs that can prevent HIV infection. It’s for men and women who do not have HIV but who may be at higher risk of HIV infection because they have an HIV-positive partner, or are unable to negotiate condom use, or are having repeated sex without a condom. When PrEP is adhered to exactly as prescribed, it eliminates the risk of HIV infection. But if doses are missed then the risk of infection increases substantially.
A person’s viral load is the amount of HIV virus in their blood. It is measured by a simple blood test. It indicates how well a person’s antiretroviral treatment is working.