AIDS is the final and most dangerous stage in the HIV life cycle. If HIV is left untreated, it will likely progress to AIDS. Many people who develop HIV have no noticeable symptoms at all for many years, but HIV is constantly replicating in the body, and the immune system continues to weaken.
AIDS symptoms are a result of weakened immune functioning. This is why it is called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The CDC defines AIDS as beginning when a person with HIV infection has a CD4 count below 200. An AIDS diagnosis may also be defined by numerous infections, called “opportunistic infections” which occur in the context of HIV infection. Therefore, a person may either be diagnosed with AIDS by 1. Having a CD4 count below 200 OR 2. Through developing an “AIDS-defining” opportunistic infection. Previously, in order to be diagnosed with AIDS, a person needed to have HIV and an opportunistic infection. However, the CDC recommends that all people with a CD4 count below 200 be diagnosed with AIDS, since the immune system is so compromised. It is important to remember that with treatment and medication, some people may never develop AIDS, and even those who develop AIDS can still live long healthy lives with immune boosting treatment, which can increase the number of white blood cells in the body.
Generally, if the CD4 count drops below 350, doctors recommend the person with HIV begin taking antibiotics, called prophylaxis in addition to antiretroviral therapy (ART). A combination of ART therapies, called Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) may also be prescribed. This can drastically lower the amount of HIV in the body and the antibiotics can help fight off potential infection. Antibiotics are used to fight off infections that may attack the body and compromise the health of a person with a weakened immune system due to HIV.