AIDS begins with HIV infection. People who have HIV may have no symptoms for 10 years or longer (though they can still pass it to others). If the infection is not detected and treated, the immune system gradually weakens and AIDS develops.
There is not one set of symptoms that defines AIDS. When immune system damage is severe, people experience opportunistic infections -- called "opportunistic" because they are caused by things which our immune systems can usually defend against. Some examples are: shingles, Kaposi's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thrush, tuberculosis, and candida esophagitis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a more detailed list of illnesses that are common as AIDS progresses.
In the past, having AIDS was defined as having HIV infection and getting one of these other diseases. Today a person may also be diagnosed with AIDS if they are HIV-positive and have a CD4 cell count (a type of immune system cell) below 200 cells per cubic millimeter, even without an opportunistic infection.
The NIH website is a good resource for a more detailed listing and description of medical diagnosis of AIDS.
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