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What is HIV?

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

HIV takes over cells in the immune system to make more copies of itself and in the process it weakens the immune system.

With modern treatment, people living with HIV are able to live long and healthy lives. If left untreated, HIV can cause people to develop new and worse symptoms. HIV is not the same thing as AIDS.

What is “acute HIV”?

What is acute HIV?

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

A doctor may diagnose someone with AIDS if they are HIV positive, and their immune system has been significantly weakened, leaving them vulnerable to illnesses that a healthy immune system is generally able to protect them from. It is the final stage of untreated HIV infection.  With effective treatment, it is possible for most people living with HIV to never develop AIDS.

HIV is most transmissible after the infection is passed and the virus makes copies of itself. This is known as acute HIV. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended for people at higher risk of HIV to get tested often, and if HIV-positive, to begin HIV treatment as early as possible.

When should you seek treatment?

When should someone seek treatment for HIV?

Who is treatment recommended for?

HIV treatment is recommended for everyone who is living with HIV, but it is highly recommended for people with a low CD4 count.

  • This indicates that HIV has weakened their immune system to such an extent that they are at risk of serious illnesses.
  • CD4 cells are white blood cells that play an important role in the immune system. Your CD4 cell count gives you an indication of the health of your immune system – your body’s natural defensive system against pathogens, infections and illnesses.
  • If you are diagnosed with HIV with a low CD4 count, you will be recommended to start HIV treatment very soon or even straight away. You may need additional treatment and monitoring, but there is a good chance that you will respond well and your immune system will start recovering.
  • If you have HIV and do not begin HIV treatment, your CD4 count will start to fall over time. The lower the CD4 cell count, the greater the damage to the immune system and the greater the risk of illness.
  • When you undergo HIV treatment, your CD4 count should gradually increase.

Apart from HIV treatment, there are currently no medications, vitamins, or supplements that are proven to be effective in boosting the immune system and increasing your CD4 count.

Find out more at CATIE (Canada’s Source for HIV and Hepatitis information).