HIV, the basics

Michael Carter, Greta Hughson

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It was identified in the early 1980s, and belongs to a group of viruses called ‘retroviruses’.

Untreated, HIV prevents the body’s immune system from working properly. Normally, the immune system would fight off an infection, but HIV infects key cells in the body’s natural defences. These co-ordinate the body’s response to infection, and are called CD4 cells.

Over time, the immune system is weakened until the body becomes vulnerable to infections it would normally be able to fight off.

Although HIV can't be cured, it can be treated. Effective treatment suppresses HIV, allowing the immune system to recover and stay strong. Modern HIV treatment means that many people with HIV are living long, healthy lives.

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this section.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.