HIV/AIDS Preferred Language Guide

The provided guide was created for and by People Living with HIV in order to address stigma related to HIV/AIDS. The information in this guide was developed and gathered by the following organizations:

  • HIV infected person

  • HIV or AIDS patient, AIDS or HIV Carrier

  • ​Positives or HIVers

Person living with HIV, PLHIV. Do not use "infected" when referring to a person. Use People First Language, ​which emphasizes the person, not their diagnosis.

Died of AIDS, to die of AIDS

Died of AIDS-related illness, Died of AIDS-related complications or end of stage HIV

AIDS virus

HIV (AIDS is a diagnosis not a virus - it cannot be transmitted)

Full-blown AIDS

There is no medical definition for this phrase - simply use the term AIDS or Stage 3 HIV

HIV virus

This is redundant; use HIV.

Zero new infections

Zero new HIV acquisitions/transmissions

HIV infections

HIV transmissions, diagnosed with HIV/PLHIV

HIV infected

Living with/diagnosed with HIV, contracted/acquired HIV

Number of infections

Number diagnosed with HIV/number of HIV acquisitions

Became infected

Contracted, acquired, diagnosed with

HIV-exposed infant

Infant exposed to HIV​

Serodiscordant couple

Serodifferent, magnetic, or mixed status couple

Mother to child transmission

Vertical transmission/perinatal transmission

Victim, Innocent Victim, Sufferer, contaminated, infected

Person living with HIV, survivor, warrior (Do not use "infected" when referring to a person)

AIDS orphans

Children orphaned by loss of parents/guardians who died of AIDS related complications

To catch AIDS, To contract AIDS, Transmit AIDS, To catch HIV

An AIDS diagnosis, developed AIDS, to contract HIV (AIDS is a diagnosis, which cannot be passed from one person to the next)



Prostitute or prostitution

Sex worker, sale of sexual services, transactional sex


This a value judgement and should be avoided instead use "having multiple partners"

Unprotected sex

Condomless sex with PrEP, Condomless sex without PrEP, sex not protected by condoms, sex not protected by antiretroviral prevention methods

Death Sentence, Fatal condition or life-threatening condition

A serious health issue, chronic health condition or manageable health for people who have access to care and treatment

"Tainted" blood; "dirty" needles

Blood containing HIV; shared needles, shared syringes

Clean, as in "I am clean are you?"

Referring to yourself or others as being "clean" suggestions that those living with HIV are dirty. Avoid!

"a drug that prevents HIV infection"

a drug that prevents transmission of HIV


End HIV transmission, Be specific: are we ending HIV or AIDS?

Why is it important to use preferred language?

Language regarding HIV can either empower or stigmatize a person living with HIV. Although a term may be correct or clinically accurate, it can also negatively impact a person's self-worth and confidence. Over the years, there have been growing concerns with the stigma attached to these terms. It is important to use preferred language in order empower people living with HIV and reduce stigma around HIV.