If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with HIV, you undoubtedly have a lot of questions about what the condition means for you and your future.
One of the challenges of an HIV diagnosis is navigating through a whole new set of acronyms, slang, and terminology. Don’t worry: we’re here to help. Hover over the 45 most commonly used terms and lingo to see what they mean, and get a better understanding on the condition.
The percentage of a population infected with a certain infection—in this case, HIV.
Stands for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome,” a condition that results in serious damage to the immune system. It is caused by the HIV infection.
“PrEP” stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” a strategy of using ARV medications (including rings, gel, or pill) for preventing HIV infection.
Not sticking to a prescribed regimen of medications. The opposite of “adherence.” Non-compliance can make treatment much less effective.
A combination of treatments for HIV known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Effects that treatment medications have on the body, ranging from short-term and hardly noticeable to long-term, that are not intended for the treatment of the disease and generally unpleasant.
Stands for “antiretroviral therapy,” which is the use of antiretroviral drugs for preventing HIV from progressing.
CD4 cells (also known as T-cells) activate the body’s immune system, allowing the body to fight off infections. Keeping the number of CD4 cells (your CD4 count) in the desired range is a very important part of HIV treatment.
Encouragement to sexually active people to be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
An oft-heard phrase encouraging people to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, so that they can make informed, responsible decisions (and get treatment if necessary).
When a blood test gives a positive for the presence of HIV antibodies, but the infection isn’t actually there. Sometimes the ELISA test will give a positive result while the Western blot test gives a negative result.
Making decisions about sexual activity based on a partner’s status. Assumptions regarding status can be dangerous, however, as is discussed in this slideshow.
When the transmission of HIV is considered to be a crime. This is a complicated legal and moral issue, and related laws vary from state to state.
The process in which the autoimmune system produces antibodies to attack an invading virus. You may not have a detectable level of HIV antibodies during this process. Read more about seroconversion time.
Taking precautions against the transmission of sexually transmitted infection through preventive measures. Find out more about safer, healthy sex.
Stands for “enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.” It is a blood test that checks for the presence of HIV antibodies. A positive result on this test means a follow-up Western blot test, which is more accurate (but more expensive).
Slang for “medications,” which are drugs used for treating HIV. There are many different courses of medication for HIV.
Infection with an HIV strain that is already resistant to particular antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that would be used for treating it.
An unsavory side effect of a medication being used for treatment. Adverse events can range from milder yet unpleasant side effects, such as fatigue and nausea, to more serious conditions such as pancreatitis and depression.
Abstaining from sexual activity. People sometimes choose to become celibate after an HIV diagnosis in order to prevent the infection‘ s spread.
A blood test for checking the presence of HIV antibodies. Its accuracy rate is almost 100 percent in combination with the ELISA test. Read more about HIV tests.
A phase of HIV infection in which no outward symptoms or signs of the condition can be observed. In some cases, this phase can last a long time.
According to the CDC, there are nearly 1.1. million people in the U.S. who live with HIV. Read our patient guide to living with HIV.
The level of HIV in your blood. If your viral load is high, your CD4 count is low. Get a better understanding of what viral load means.
Stands for “antiretroviral,” which is the type of drug used in antiretroviral therapy (ART) for suppressing the HIV virus.
This refers to a viral load that is so low that tests cannot detect it. It does not mean that a patient no longer has HIV. Learn more here.
When a blood test gives a negative result for the presence of HIV antibodies, but the infection is actually there. This may occur if someone is newly infected and has not yet begun producing HIV antibodies. People who think they may have been exposed to HIV might need to be tested multiple times.
Stands for “men who have sex with men.” This term is often preferred to “homosexual” in discussions of HIV and AIDS, depending on community or context.
Another term for a mixed-status relationship, in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. Possible synonyms include: mixed sero-status, sero-divergent, inter-viral, positive-negative.
When one partner in a couple is HIV-positive and one is not. Other terms for this include “serodiscordant” and “magnetic.” Read more about dating with HIV.
Taking up behaviors that bring down the likelihood of exposure to or spread of HIV. Examples include consistent and correct use of condoms, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections, not sharing needles, and more. Read more about risk factors for HIV.
Closely related to HIV-1, this retrovirus causes AIDS but is mostly found in West Africa. Learn more about the two types of HIV here.
The Stigma Project defines “HIV neutral” as being an informed advocate in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Promoting change of some kind: social, political, or otherwise. There is a ton of activism for HIV awareness, research, and more by individuals and groups throughout the world.
Taking HIV medications exactly as prescribed. Adherence helps lower your viral load and prevents drug resistance. Other terms for this include “compliance” and “med compliance.”
A prescribed course of treatment for a particular condition. Learn about the evolution of HIV treatments here.
Also known as a CD4 cell. The T-cells trigger the body’s immune system to fight off infection.
Refers to the length of time that someone with HIV can potentially live. Longevity has increased with antiretroviral treatment.
To be invested with power: spiritual, political, social, or otherwise. People living with HIV can feel empowered in a way that keeps their condition from defining their lives.