A glossary of terms

A glossary of commonly used terms in connection with HIV and AIDS.

Here are some of the terms used in connection with HIV and AIDS:


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The most severe infection level of HIV. AIDS is often diagnosed when people who have HIV begin developing infections that a non-infected person would be able to fight off.


Drugs that attack or kill retroviruses, including HIV.


One of the most well-known antiretrovirals. AZT was the first such drug approved for use in the U.S. and Canada.

Combination (Antiretroviral) Therapy

The use of two or more antiretroviral drugs in combination. The use of three or more antiretroviral drugs is often referred to as HAART or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy.

Concurrent Sexual Partnerships

Having more than one sexual partner at a time. The practice raises the risk of contracting HIV and is increasingly recognized as a significant factor in the high prevalence rate of HIV in Africa.


A rapid outbreak of disease in a certain geographical area or population.

Gene therapy

A method of correcting defective genes that may be helping a disease progress. Often, a healthy, or normal, gene is inserted to replace a defective one.

Hepatitis C

A virus that causes liver disease. Approximately 40 per cent of people with HIV also have Hep C.

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART)

A treatment that uses a combination of medications to suppress or stop the progress of HIV. It usually involves at least three anti-HIV drugs. The drugs are usually a combination of protease inhibitors, NRTIs, and NNRTIs.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a retrovirus that is the cause of AIDS. The virus infects and disables a person's immune system.

Immune system

The body's infection-clearing system, including organs, cells, and the blood system.


A state where the immune system cannot function normally because it has been weakened. This can arise from drugs and medical treatments (chemotherapy) or diseases (HIV). An immune system that is immunosuppressed may also be referred to as immunocompromised.

Kaposi's sarcoma

A cancer characterized by visible or internal sores. The presence of Kaposi's sarcoma often leads to a diagnosis of AIDS.

Long-term non-progressor

People who live with HIV for seven or more years, without antiretroviral therapy, whose disease has not progressed.


Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors are drugs used as part of antiretroviral therapy. They prevent a virus from changing cells to create new virus.


A global epidemic. An outbreak of disease that occurs over a wide geographical region.


The liquid part of the blood and lymph that contains nutrients, clotting factors, wastes, hormones, gases, and albumin.

Protease inhibitors

Drugs that are part of the highly active antiretroviral therapy. PIs block protease in the body, which HIV needs to replicate.

Retrovir (AZT)

The first antiretroviral approved in the U.S. and Canada.


A type of virus that carries its information as RNA. Using the body's own enzymes, it converts into DNA, and inserts this viral DNA into a person's DNA.


Sexually transmitted disease.


There are three different types of these immune system cells: the helper, the killer, and the suppressor.


HIV is mostly commonly transmitted through unprotected sex. It is also spread through sharing needles, or to a child from its infected mother at birth. HIV is spread through contact with infected blood, vaginal fluids, semen and breast milk.

Viral Load

A measurement of the amount of virus in the bloodstream.