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Having HIV does not mean you will go on to develop AIDS. That being said, without treatment, HIV typically progresses to AIDS about 10 years after you first contract the disease (though this can be different for everyone). To stop this from happening, you will need to receive anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
ART works by preventing the virus from quickly making copies of itself, thereby slowing down the progression of the disease. It’s not a cure for HIV or AIDS, as the virus will still be in you, but for many people, it reduces the viral load by so much that it’s not even detectable (undetectable = untransmittable). We know that when the virus is undetectable, you cannot infect anyone else with HIV.
The Stages of HIV
HIV progresses to AIDS in a number of stages. The first is acute HIV infection, which often presents as flu-like symptoms. This happens one to three weeks after exposure to the virus. As with any infection, your immune system reacts and attempts to fend off the virus. HIV is unique in that it thrives off of attacking your immune system, and after about a week or two of flu-like symptoms, the virus and your immune system begin to stabilize and symptoms disappear.
This leads to the next stage, which is the clinical latency stage. During this time, the virus will appear to be dormant, reproducing only enough to stay active in your system. During this time, the virus is still slowly attacking your immune system. Eventually, the viral load in your body will continue to increase and your immune system will continue to decline until you reach the next and final stage — AIDS.
To prevent yourself from getting AIDS, it’s best to start ART as early as possible. AIDS is no longer always fatal and many people living with HIV/AIDS live long and healthy lives with the help of ARTs.