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Glossary

AIDS - stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Over time, HIV damages the immune system and can cause "AIDS". Certain infections or cancers that are very serious are "AIDS defining"; in addition a CD4<200 is considered "AIDS-defining"

Antiretrovirals - this refers to medications that have specific activity against HIV and reduces HIV's ability to damage the immune system. When taken appropriately and in combination (see "HAART") they can lead to a healthier and longer life in patients with HIV.

"Bottom" - in medical lingo this is referred to as anal receptive sex. Being a bottom carries the highest risk of acquiring HIV and is similar in risk to sharing a needle with an HIV positive injection drug user.

CD4 count - this is a measure of the strength of the immune system. HIV continually kills CD4 cells. Over time, the body can not replace these lost CD4 cells and their number declines. When this happens the body will be more susceptible to infections. A normal CD4 count is 1000. The body starts to get more frequent common infections at around a count of 400. At around a CD4 count of 200 the body becomes susceptible to many unusual infections. It is best to start medications for HIV before the CD4 count drops below 200 to prevent these infections from developing.

"HAART" - stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy. HAART refers to the combination of HIV medications currently used to treat HIV. HAART does not cure HIV but can reduce the level of HIV in the body to very low levels and prevent destruction of the immune system. In order for the medications to remain effective, medications need to be taken as directed by your doctor. (See "resistance")

HIV - stands for human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that weakens the immune system and causes AIDS. HIV is most commonly transmitted through injection drug use, sex (including rectal, vaginal, and oral), and from mother to child (during the pregnancy, during delivery, or through breast feeding). Very rarely is HIV transmitted through transfusions or from occupational exposures (for example after a nurse gets stuck with a needle used on a HIV positive patient).

Prophylaxis - this term refers to taking medications taken to prevent infections from developing as the immune system falters. Prophylaxis can improve HIV patient's quality of life and survival. If effective HIV treatment raises the CD4 count above certain thresholds, prophylaxis can be stopped.

Resistance - Resistance means that the HIV virus is no longer killed by a particular treatment (drug). The most common way a patient acquires drug resistant HIV is by not taking his medications faithfully. Oftentimes a test can be done to see if resistant virus is present. These tests help your provider choose medications that still may be effective in treating resistant HIV. However, with increasing resistance, it gets harder and harder to find a combination of medications that will control HIV successfully.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - A large group of infections that can be spread via sexually contact. The most common in the United States are chlamydia, genital warts gonorrhea, hepatitis B virus, herpes, HIV, and syphilis.

"Superinfection" - is the concept of infection of an already HIV-infected person with a second strain of HIV. The superinfection can be with a more aggressive strain of HIV.

"Top" - in medical lingo this is referred to as anal insertive sex. While being a "top" is not as dangerous as being a "bottom", it still carries a high risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases if condoms are not used.

"T cells" - the same as CD4 count; please see definition for CD4 count

Viral load - a measure of how much HIV is found in the blood. The viral load can predict how fast the virus will damage the immune system. In treated patients, the viral load is an accurate measure of how effective treatment is. It should be noted that patients with an "undetectable" viral load can still transmit HIV to others. This is because the viral load can vary from one day to another day (be undetectable one day and be detectable the next), and the virus may be present in high levels in genital fluids when the virus is not detectable in the blood.

 

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