Despite an increased understanding of HIV and significant advances in its treatment, there remains a huge amount of misinformation, discrimination, and stigma around the condition.
That’s why empathetic language, access to unbiased sources of information, and person-focused reporting are key to ending the stigma and uplifting people living with HIV and their loved ones.
At Healthline, we understand how important it is to inform people that, despite what many people believe, HIV is both treatable and preventable. When the viral load is undetectable, the virus is untransmittable (U=U). We aim to include this message in all of our HIV content.
The language that we use to discuss HIV is informed by conversations with people from the HIV community.
Like with so many other topics we cover, we always use person-first language when discussing HIV. This means saying “a person with HIV” instead of “an HIV victim,” for example. We believe this is absolutely vital in breaking the historic stigma associated with this condition.
We’re also careful to avoid using the word “infected” as an adjective to describe a person. This has negative connotations.
Importantly, we give voice to people’s individual experiences with HIV. This means that we publish personal stories, such as people’s experiences with coming out to a partner about their HIV status, and tips for overcoming stigma from someone who’s been there.
We’ve built up a large database of articles relating to HIV to offer information on causes, symptoms, treatments, diagnosis, medications, home remedies, day-to-day life with HIV, and more.
HIV vs. AIDS
HIV and AIDS aren’t the same.
HIV is a virus that transmits through various means, such as sexual contact, sharing needles, breastfeeding, and during pregnancy.
Without prompt and continued treatment, HIV can develop into stage 3 HIV, also known as AIDS. AIDS is a condition that develops when HIV has caused serious damage to the immune system.
People don’t die from HIV or AIDS. Instead, they die from AIDS-related illnesses arising from this damage to their immune system.
That said, due to the invention and uptake of several effective HIV treatments, fewer people are developing AIDS.
HIV is now a manageable health condition, and with the right treatment, many people with it can lead long, healthy lives.
Is infected with AIDS
Is living with HIV
They’ve been infected with AIDs since they were a teenager → They’ve been living with HIV since they were a teenager
Person living with HIV
Person who has HIV
Many HIV/AIDS sufferers are unhappy → A lot of people who have HIV may struggle to come to terms with their condition, but support is available
They caught AIDS a couple of years ago → They contracted HIV a couple of years ago, and it has since developed into AIDS
Died of AIDS
Died from an AIDS-related illness
Their mother died of AIDS → Their mother died from an AIDS-related illness
Transmitted during childbirth
Mothers can infect their children with HIV through mother-to-child transmission → HIV can pass from a birthing parent to a child during childbirth, though this is rare
Around 38 million people are fighting HIV → Around 38 million people are living with HIV
You're at risk of
Someone with HIV has a high risk of
You have a higher risk of HIV if you share needles → People who share needles may have a higher risk of HIV
Sex without a condom or other barrier method
Condomless sex without PrEP
Having unprotected sex can infect someone with HIV → Having sex without a condom or other barrier method increases the chance of transmitting HIV
Manageable health condition
HIV is a fatal condition → With the right treatment, HIV is a manageable health condition
Has multiple sex partners
If you’re promiscuous, you’re at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV → People with multiple sex partners who engage in penetrative sex without using a barrier method may be more likely to contract HIV
Associating certain types of sexual activity with a person’s moral character has historically led to groups being excluded from society or being seen as “abnormal” or “amoral.”
Using neutral language in sexual health does not make suggestions as to who someone is as a person. Rather, it provides information in a way that does not shame, judge, or assign blame.
Providing accurate, empathetic, and non-judgmental sexual health information is the first step in preventing unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV through the promotion of healthy sexual behaviors.
Removing the stigma is necessary for removing the barriers that prevent people affected by or at risk of contracting HIV from accessing healthcare.
Providing accurate information about the best treatments, medications, and prevention methods for HIV can help stop transmission of the virus.
Our HIV Guiding Principles
While it would be much easier to list the definitive do’s and don’ts of language, that is not possible — context is critical. Language is always changing and evolving, and any list would soon be out of date. This is why we're always listening for changes. Additionally, there are no definitively "right" or "wrong" answers about what language to use. Context is important, and what works for us might not work for you. While specific word choices will change over time, our community approach first ensures that we are prioritizing those who are the most important to what we do: our readers. See full approach here.