Skip to Main Content

AIDS & HIV: The Basics

A research guide for learning more about this disease

Useful Starting Points

Truth about transmissions

Writing / Research Guides

The Basics

The following answer comes from
“AIDS” is an acronym for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

  • A – Acquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
  • I – Immuno – Your body's immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
  • D – Deficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is "deficient," or isn't working the way it should.
  • S – Syndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).

“HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

  • HHuman – This particular virus can only infect human beings.
  • IImmunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells called CD4 cells or t-cells, which fight disease and infection. A "deficient" immune system can't protect you from contracting other illnesses.
  • VVirus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host. But unlike other viruses, once you have this one, you have it for life.

Unlike AIDS, it is possible for a human to be born already infected with HIV.

It is also possible that someone with HIV may progress to AIDS. Drugs and treatment now available can help keep the HIV virus at bay. With early detection and diligent care, it is now possible to for an HIV-infected person to live a long time.

HIV is not spread through:

Air • Water • Insects • Saliva • Drinking fountains • Toilet seats • Hugs • Handshakes • Casual contact

A person infected with HIV can transmit the disease through certain body fluids.
  • Blood • Semen (cum) • Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum) • Rectal fluids • Vaginal fluids • Breast milk


Transmission mainly occurs via

• Sexual contact

Sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV

• Injection drug use

Sharing needles or other drug equipment with someone who has HIV

Though less common, HIV can also be spread via

• Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding • Blood transfusion, organ transplant • On the job exposure

At this time, there is no cure for HIV / AIDS.

There is also no way to vaccinate against contracting the disease.

However, antiretroviral therapy (ART), a treatment that involves taking a group of HIV medicines every day, can help people who are infected live longer.

Scientists around the world continue to research better treatments, new prevention methods, and ultimately a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Other "Social" Guides

Translate This Page


Credit Box

This LibGuide was created by Kathy Fester

The content is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commerical license.