AIDS - Your most commonly asked questions answered

The 1st December is World AIDS Day. We talk to a lot of people who don’t really know what AIDS actually is, or the difference between AIDS and HIV. Here we answer the 5 most common questions our team are asked.

What is AIDS?

AIDS (which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the advanced stage of a HIV infection. The HIV virus weakens a person’s immune system and once the immune system is weakened to a specific level, this is when they’re said to have AIDS (technically speaking, it’s when their CD4 count is less than 200).

AIDS can be a fluid status. In basic terms it’s the sick part of being HIV. You can go from an AIDS status back to a HIV by managing your health and through the treatment prescribed. As HIV is a viral infection, there is no cure at the moment.

Would I know if I had AIDS?

Yes, you would definitely know - when someone develops AIDS, they get very obvious signs of illness as their immune system can’t fight infections. Symptoms may include chronic diarrhoea, night sweats, skin problems, recurrent infections and serious life-threatening illnesses, like pneumonia.

Although illness is obvious once a person develops AIDS, symptoms of a HIV infection may not be as obvious. Around 80% of people experience a flu-like illness a few weeks after being infected, but some people don’t notice any symptoms. If you’ve never had a test, come to one of our rapid HIV testing drop-ins or visit our Cobridge clinic.

Can I catch AIDS?

No, you can’t catch AIDS. You can catch HIV, which can lead to AIDS if left undiagnosed and untreated, but you can’t catch AIDS. HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex or sharing needles. It can also be passed from a mother to child through pregnancy or breastfeeding, although because of advancements in medicine, in UK today there is less than 1% chance of a mother transmitting HIV to her baby.

Do you die if you get AIDS?

Not necessarily. You can actually have AIDS (a CD4 count lower than 200 as discussed in the first question) and then revert back to not having AIDS, with effective treatment. This is because the treatment stops the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage.

Can you have HIV and never get AIDS?

Yes, in fact, the majority of people living with HIV will never develop AIDS. We have excellent treatment here in England, and as long as you take treatment, follow medical advice and have and regular check-ups, it is unlikely you will develop AIDS.

Early diagnosis of HIV is key to living a long and healthy life. For more information about HIV testing in Stoke-on-Trent visit

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