The Difference Between HIV and AIDS

This content has been developed in partnership with HIV Scotland.

You may hear HIV & AIDS talked about at the same time, and sometimes confused for one another. They are different, but connected. 

The difference between HIV and AIDS

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that affects the body’s immune system. Over time, and without effective treatment, it weakens the immune system leaving the person who has HIV open to other infections. 

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person living with HIV is said to have AIDS if their immune system becomes weakened by HIV to such an extent where it causes a number of specific illnesses, for example, Kaposi sarcoma or recurrent pneumonia. 

Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS.

What about treatment?

Science has come such a long way that HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness. Treatment means it is possible to live a long and healthy life with HIV, without it ever leading to AIDS. With correct treatment, it’s also now possible to recover from having AIDS, which means the physical illnesses have gone away although the person will still have HIV.

In the 1980s and early 1990s before treatments were available the term AIDS was used frequently. The effectiveness of treatments means that very few people living with HIV go on to develop AIDS in Scotland anymore. AIDS remains a serious concern elsewhere in the world, where access to quality healthcare is out of reach for lots of people. 

What is PrEP and PEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, it is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. 

PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis, it is a treatment that can stop an HIV infection after the virus has entered a person’s body. It must be taken within 72 hours of exposure.

These are similar to morning after pills but instead of preventing an unplanned pregnancy, they prevent transmission of HIV (they do not prevent the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections though). 

For more information about PrEP, visit the HIV Scotland information page.

For more information about PEP, visit the HIV Scotland information.

For more information on keeping your sexual health in check, visit our main page on sexual health.