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American Family Children's Hospital

HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program: Words to Know

The UW Health HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program at University Hospital has been providing care for people with HIV/AIDS since 1985.


The glossary below defines terms common to HIV care.


  • AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome): Though named a syndrome (cluster of symptoms without an easily identifiable cause), it is now well understood that AIDS is a disease state with a known cause — the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It is often characterized by infections that take advantage of an immune system that has been weakened by fighting HIV.
  • Antiretroviral (ARV): A drug used to interrupt the ability of a particular kind of virus, called a retrovirus, to make copies of itself. Retroviruses, like HIV, become part of the genetic makeup of the cells that they infect. The four different classes of antiretrovirals each interrupt the replication at different points in the process. This is why antiretrovirals from more than one class are often combined to fight HIV.
  • Confidentiality: The right or expectation that information will be held in secret. It relates to the duty to maintain confidence and respect privacy.
  • Drug resistance: Occurs when HIV continues to make copies of itself while someone is taking antiretrovirals. A virus naturally makes mistakes in the process of copying itself. To treat HIV, a potent combination of antiretrovirals is used to keep the replication as low as possible. When the antiretrovirals do not put enough pressure on the virus — commonly due to missing doses — the virus is able to make more copies, increasing the chances that some of the copies will be resistant to the drugs that are present. Those drugs then become less able to suppress the virus because it is resistant to them.
  • HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It weakens the immune system by using the body's infection-fighting cells to manufacture copies of itself.
  • NNRTI (non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor): One of four classes of anti-HIV drugs. Includes Viramune (nevirapine), Sustiva (efavirenz) and Rescriptor (delavirdine). Drugs in this class prevent HIV from making copies of itself by binding to an enzyme (reverse transcriptase) of the virus that is used in the replication (copying) process.
  • Telemedicine (Telemed): The use of telecommunications technologies (e.g., telephone, video camera) to provide health care at a distance. It allows a medical provider to "meet" with a patient by using a phone line and video equipment to see and hear each other.
  • Undetectable: A term used in the context of measuring the amount of HIV in the body tissue or fluid — most often, blood — being tested. It means that the level of HIV in the tissue or fluid sample is less than the level the test is able to identify or detect. It does not mean that HIV is absent from the sample, only that the test is not sensitive enough to find it.