Treatment training manual

2. 3 Definition of HIV

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

  • Human – means it is a virus that infects humans.
  • Immunodeficiency – means it reduces the immune system.
  • Virus – means that the infection is a virus!

A virus is defined as a genetic organism that can only reproduce inside cells of another living organism. Some viruses are harmless and others can cause illness. Anti-viral drugs are used to treat viral infections.

Viral infections that affect people with HIV include hepatitis A, B and C, herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2), cytomegalovirus (CMV) and human papilloma virus (HPV).

HIV belongs to a family of viruses called retroviruses. This is why HIV drugs are called antiretrovirals (or ARVs).

A retrovirus is a type of virus that needs to make a ‘backward step’ in order to reproduce – hence ‘retro’.

Last updated: 1 January 2016.