Other Specific Conditions > HIV / AIDS > Mission Statement/Definition of AIDS/Frequently Asked Questions
  ribbon ribbon ribbon 
Click here to see PA testing sites or call the AIDS Factline at 800-662-6080 for further information.
Click here to view HIPAA Notice of Privacy.
Division of HIV/AIDS
Mission Statement - As the lead public entity for HIV intervention in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Communicable Diseases, Division of HIV/AIDS has oversight responsibility for numerous HIV prevention and care programs across the state. The purpose of the Division of HIV/AIDS is to develop and implement a multi-dimensional, coordinated strategy to prevent disease and change high-risk behaviors, as well as provide resources and direction for sustaining preventive behavior and avoiding infection with the HIV virus.

Definition - AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus attacks the immune system, the body’s line of defense against disease and infections. When the immune system breaks down, one becomes susceptible to serious, often deadly infections and cancers called “opportunistic infections,” so named because they take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses.

Glossary of HIV/AIDS related terms 


State-Designated HIV Anonymous Counseling and Testing Sites

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS

Notice of Privacy Practices

Related Links

Stats and Surveillance

Contact Numbers and Addresses: To find the local HIV/AIDS Coalition in your areas, choose from either the county map or a contact list.


Question: What is AIDS?

Answer: AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.  A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using certain clinical or laboratory standards.

Question: What causes AIDS?

Answer: AIDS is caused by infection with a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  This virus is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact.  In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding.  People with HIV have what is called HIV infection.  Most of these people will develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.

Question: What body fluids transmit HIV?

Answer: These body fluids have been proven to spread HIV:

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal fluid
  • Breast milk
  • Other body fluids containing blood
These are additional body fluids that may transmit the virus that health care workers may come into contact with:

  • Fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord
  • Fluid surrounding the bone joints
  • Fluid surrounding an unborn baby

Question: How does HIV cause AIDS?

Answer: HIV destroys a certain kind of blood cells—CD4+ T cells (helper cells)--which are crucial to the normal function of the human immune system.  In fact, loss of these cells in people with HIV is an extremely powerful predictor of the development of AIDS.  Studies of thousands of people have revealed that most people infected with HIV carry the virus for years before enough damage is done to the immune system for AIDS to develop.  However, recently developed sensitive tests have shown a strong connection between the amount of HIV in the blood and the decline in CD+4 T cell numbers and the development of AIDS.  Reducing the amount of virus in the body with anti-HIV drugs can slow this immune destruction.