People who’ve been recently diagnosed with HIV — and their loved ones —undoubtedly have a lot of questions about what the condition means for them and their 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.
Discover 57 terms and get a better understanding of the condition and lingo associated with it.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. This condition results in serious damage to the immune system and is the most advanced stage of HIV.
HIV-1 is the retrovirus that causes most HIV cases worldwide.
Closely related to HIV-1, this retrovirus causes HIV as well but is mostly found in West Africa.
Prevalence is the percentage of a population that has a certain medical condition — in this case, HIV.
According to UNAIDS, a United Nations agency, 38 million people around the world were living with HIV in 2019. They represent around .49 percent of the global population.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. With this strategy, people at an increased risk for acquiring HIV use daily medications in pill form to help prevent HIV transmission.
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis, an emergency treatment. People who may have been exposed to HIV can reduce their risk for contracting it if they take a combination of pills within 72 hours of possible exposure.
This oft-heard phrase encourages people who are sexually active to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
Getting tested means that they can make informed decisions (and start treatment, if necessary).
Seroconversion is the process in which the immune system produces antibodies to attack an invading virus.
A person who recently contracted HIV may not have a detectable level of HIV antibodies during this process.
ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. It’s a blood test that checks for the presence of antibodies to HIV as well as a viral protein (antigen) called p24.
A positive result on this test means a follow-up antibody test to determine if a person has HIV-1 or HIV-2.
This was a blood test used for checking for the presence of HIV antibodies.
In the past, the combination of a Western blot and an ELISA test was used to diagnose HIV.
However, the Western blot is no longer used. Instead, a differentiation assay is used to help confirm a diagnosis.
To be seronegative is to test negatively for the presence of HIV antibodies.
To be seropositive is to test positively for the presence of HIV antibodies.
A false negative occurs 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 has recently contracted HIV and hasn’t yet begun producing HIV antibodies.
People who think they may have been exposed to HIV might need to be tested multiple times.
When a blood test gives a positive for the presence of HIV antibodies, but the infection isn’t actually there, that’s known as a false positive.
T cells are white blood cells that activate the body’s immune system, allowing the body to fight off infections. The types of T cells that HIV infect are called CD4 cells.
The CD4 count refers to the number of CD4 cells a person has. Keeping the CD4 count in the desired range is a very important part of HIV treatment.
The viral load is the level of HIV in a person’s blood. It’s expressed as copies of HIV per milliliter (mL) of blood.
If a person’s viral load is high, their CD4 count is low.
This term refers to a couple in which both partners have HIV.
A mixed-status couple includes one partner who’s HIV-positive and one who isn’t.
Other terms for this are:
- mixed sero-status
MSM stands for men who have sex with men. This term is often preferred to homosexual or gay in discussions of HIV and AIDS, depending on community or context.
MSM are at an increased risk for HIV when compared to other demographics.
During the asymptomatic phase of HIV, no outward symptoms or signs of the condition can be observed. In some cases, this phase can last a long time.
Other names for this phase include:
- chronic HIV
- clinical latency
- HIV latency
Meds is simply slang for medications. There are many different courses of medication for HIV.
A regimen is a prescribed course of treatment for a particular condition. Learn about the evolution of HIV treatments here.
ARV is short for antiretroviral, which is the type of drug used for suppressing HIV.
ART is short for antiretroviral therapy, which is the use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV from progressing.
A combination of HIV drugs, typically three or four, is known as an AIDS cocktail. It’s also known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) .
For many years, a multi-pill regimen was the standard for HIV. However, some people may now be prescribed single-tablet regimens.
Adherence refers to taking HIV medications exactly as they’re prescribed. Adherence helps lower a person’s viral load and prevents drug resistance.
Other terms for this include compliance and med compliance.
Noncompliance refers to not sticking to a prescribed regimen of medications. It’s the opposite of adherence.
Noncompliance can make treatment much less effective.
Side effects are unintended and generally unpleasant effects that treatment medications have on the body. They may range from short term and hardly noticeable to long term.
An adverse event is any negative reaction that occurs after a person takes a medication. An adverse event doesn’t necessarily have to be caused by the medication itself.
Adverse events can range from milder yet unpleasant effects, such as fatigue and nausea, to more serious conditions such as pancreatitis and depression.
Transmitted resistance occurs when a person contracts an HIV strain that’s already resistant to the antiretroviral drugs that would be used for treating it.
Treatment as prevention (TasP) refers to the practice of HIV-positive people taking HIV medications in order to reduce their risk for transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative sexual partner.
An HIV-positive person achieves viral suppression when they have under 200 copies of HIV/mL in their blood.
Viral suppression is the goal of HIV treatment. If a person is virally suppressed, they’re unable to transmit HIV during sexual activity.
Undetectable is used to refer to a viral load that’s so low that tests can’t detect it. An undetectable viral load doesn’t mean that a person no longer has HIV, though.
Results will vary by lab test, but viral loads are generally considered undetectable when they’re under 50 copies of HIV/mL, according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
A person’s viral load is considered durably undetectable if they have an undetectable viral load for at least 6 months.
U=U is a slogan from the Prevention Access Campaign.
It’s used to express that a person with an undetectable viral load can’t transmit HIV during sex (or Undetectable=Untransmittable).
Serosorting refers to making decisions about sexual activity based on a partner’s HIV status.
Celibacy refers to abstaining from sexual activity. People sometimes choose to become celibate after an HIV diagnosis in order to prevent the transmission of HIV.
Stigma refers to prejudice and discrimination aimed toward people with HIV or AIDS.
When the transmission of HIV is considered to be a crime, it’s known as HIV criminalization. This is a complicated legal and moral issue, and related laws vary from state to state.
Activism refers to promoting change of some kind: social, political, or otherwise.
There’s a lot of activism for HIV awareness, research, and more by individuals and groups throughout the world.
Longevity refers to the length of time that someone with HIV can potentially live. Longevity has increased with antiretroviral treatment.
A long-term survivor is someone who’s lived with HIV for several years. Some people live with HIV for decades.
90-90-90 refers to a strategy introduced by UNAIDS in 2014 to reach three major treatment milestones by the end of 2020. The initial goal was for:
- 90 percent of HIV-positive people to know their status and receive an HIV diagnosis
- 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV to begin antiretroviral therapy
- 90 percent of people on antiretroviral therapy to achieve viral suppression
The goals weren’t met at the end of 2020, but important progress has been made.
For instance, according to a September 2020 update, the number of HIV-positive people who achieved viral suppression increased 18 percentage points between 2015 and 2019.
As of 2019, nearly 59 percent of HIV-positive people worldwide had achieved viral suppression.