What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and breaks down the immune system, the body’s “security force” that fights off infections. When the immune system breaks down, you lose this protection and can develop serious, often life-threatening infections and cancers.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition that is acquired once the HIV virus has caused significant damage to the immune system. It usually takes many years before HIV breaks down a person's immune system and causes AIDS; AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.
How Is HIV transmitted through body fluids?
HIV lives and reproduces in blood and other body fluids. We know that the following fluids can contain high levels of HIV:
- Pre-seminal fluid
- Breast milk
- Vaginal fluids
- Rectal (anal) mucous
Other body fluids and waste products – like feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit – don’t contain enough HIV to infect you, unless they have blood mixed in them and you have significant and direct contact with them.
HIV is transmitted through body fluids in very specific ways:
- During sexual contact: When you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex with a HIV-infected partner, you will usually have contact with your partner’s body fluids. Note: It’s much easier to get HIV (or to give it to someone else), if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
- During pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding: Babies have constant contact with their mother’s body fluids – including amniotic fluid and blood – throughout pregnancy and childbirth. After birth, infants can get HIV from drinking infected breast milk.
- As a result of injection drug use: Injecting drugs puts you in contact with blood – your own and others – if you share needles and “works”. Needles or drugs that are contaminated with HIV-infected blood can deliver the virus directly into your body.
- As a result of occupational exposure: Healthcare workers have the greatest risk for this type of HIV transmission. If you work in a healthcare setting, you can come into contact with infected blood or other fluids through needle sticks or cuts. This type of transmission is extremely rare.
- As a result of a blood transfusion with infected blood or an organ transplant from an infected donor: Screening requirements make both of these forms of HIV transmission very rare in the United States.
There is no danger from casual contact with people living with HIV. HIV cannot live outside of the human body, so you cannot be infected from toilet seats, phones or water fountains. The virus cannot be transmitted in the air through sneezing or coughing. You cannot get it from mosquitoes or other insect or animal bites.
Additional facts and information about HIV/AIDS can be found on the AIDS Foundation of Chicago website.