How Terminology Has Changed

Doctor and patientIn 1982, the severe immune deficiency amongst gay men was called “gay-related immune deficiency” or GRID. It was renamed in September of that year by the CDC to AIDS. As the disease was studied, multiple stages of infection were identified, and medical professionals were able to use those to help people understand what was happening to their bodies and why. Now, however, the term “AIDS” is being replaced with Stage 3 (AIDS). Why?

Improved Treatments

When HIV was first identified and was being studied, there was not much in the way of treatment available to HIV-positive people. Secondary infections were handled as best they could be, but people progressed rapidly through multiple stages of infection until death. Medical professionals needed the full five stages—the latter three were all varying degrees of full AIDS infection—in order to determine treatment and speak to patients about their state.
However, medication has improved. Treatments are much more effective than they were in the early 1990s and there’s no longer any need for a multi-stage progression of AIDS. Due to the success of antiretroviral therapy, HIV infection has been limited to three specific stages. The final stage is listed as Stage 3 (AIDS) instead of AIDS.

Reduced Disease Progression

In the 1980s and 1990s, an HIV diagnosis was guaranteed to lead to the full progression of AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy didn’t gain strength until 1995; many people passed away as the result of secondary infections that developed as AIDS progressed.

Now, thanks to improved treatments and better medication, HIV doesn’t progress as quickly or even at all in some patients. With consistent access to health care and improved medication, HIV can simply be a condition rather than an active illness that causes symptoms. AIDS formerly had three stages of progression as greater secondary infections attacked the body; now treatment helps contain the virus to maintain three stages of HIV infection rather than two stages with three stages of AIDS to follow.

Changing attitudes, improvement in social perception and the progression of better health care have all helped change the result of testing HIV-positive. As we look ahead to improving the quality of life for everyone with HIV, it’s no longer necessary to hold onto older terminology. We mark the progress we’ve made by discarding unneeded labels.