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. Called CD4 cells, these co-ordinate the body’s response to infection.
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.