Here's what you should know.
HIV is a virus that causes AIDS, but just because someone has tested HIV-positive, it doesn't mean that they have AIDS too. AIDS is a life-threatening condition that can develop over time.
When HIV enters your body, it infects CD4 cells (helper T-cells) in your immune system. You need these cells to help fight off diseases and infections. The lower the CD4 levels, the harder it is for your immune system to work well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in healthy people, CD4 counts range from 500 to 1,800 per cubic millimeter of blood, but when someone is diagnosed with AIDS, they have a CD4 count of lower than 200. But someone can also receive an AIDS diagnosis if you have HIV (CD4s higher than 200) and an opportunistic infection such as tuberculosis or Pneumocystis carinii [NEW-mo-SIS-tis CA-RIN-nee-eye] pneumonia (PCP).
If I am HIV-positive, what can I do to prevent developing AIDS?
The take away is easy. The higher your CD4 levels, the healthier you are. One huge part of staying healthy with HIV is taking your medication everyday, taking care of yourself (mentally and physically) and eating well.
Another key element is making sure that you get diagnosed with HIV early on, which means you have to be diligent about getting tested every year. Unfortunately, many African-Americans, Latinos and women are more likely to test late, which means that by the time they test positive for HIV, their disease has already progressed to AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that every patient ages 13-64 get tested for HIV every year.
To learn about where you can get tested in your area, visit hivtest.org.
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(Photo: LIN YIGUANG/Xinhua /Landov)