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Online Glossaries of HIV/AIDS Terms

By Suzy Subways

May 18, 2004

As new communities and newly diagnosed individuals confront the often-confusing world of HIV treatment, an online glossary of HIV-related terms can be a great resource for self-education. It can also be a welcome refresher for the treatment-savvy. Here, a review of four good ones:
Updated in March 2004, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's glossary includes a large number of both basic and fairly advanced HIV terms. It's easily searchable and user-friendly. Like the other three glossaries, it doesn't have terms like "disclosure," "serodiscordant" or "harm reduction" that could be very useful in helping the newly diagnosed get the most out of the HIV community and deal with emotional issues related to living with HIV. Still, some of that material can be found elsewhere on AIDS organization Web sites -- and for a science-focused glossary, the language here is quite clear for people without a medical background.
The federal government's AIDSInfo Web site includes fewer terms in its glossary than the others reviewed here, but its definitions are sophisticated, with detailed scientific information. The language is complex and could be hard for someone with limited literacy, but it's a firm ladder for reaching to grasp advanced concepts. The glossary is searchable but requires an extra mouse-click that could be time-consuming. Unlike the glossaries on SFAF and AEGIS, it does not have terms like "condom" and "safer sex" -- probably a reflection of the feds' recent prudishness. Last updated in September 2002, this glossary has a Spanish edition, and is also available in hard copy and PDF form.'s glossary, with more than 3,500 terms listed, ranks as the most comprehensive. Still, it does not include such treatment basics as individually listed drug names and some important side effects like lactic acidosis and lipodystrophy. The glossary doesn't have its own search function, but (as with the others reviewed here) users can view a list of entries beginning with each letter of the alphabet. This can be easier if exact spelling is unknown. Alternatively, viewers can use their browser's "Find" function to search for a term on that page. This glossary was last updated in 2003.
The glossary from Gay Men's Health Crisis, also updated in 2003, includes each antiretroviral listed by its generic name along with possible side effects. It has fewer terms than SFAF or AEGIS, but its definitions remain clear while entering more scientifically advanced territory. Like the other three, it has some alternative-medicine info. It does not have "condom" or "safe sex" -- or other broad terms related to living with HIV -- but it seems well suited for those with basic HIV knowledge who want to become treatment experts. One user-friendly feature of this glossary: It capitalizes terms within each definition that are themselves defined elsewhere in the glossary.

Spanish HIV/AIDS Glossaries

For Spanish speakers, Amigos Contra el SIDA, AC (Mexico) offers two glossaries.

  1. General HIV/AIDS terms:

  2. Glossary of medications:

Also note the English and Spanish glossary mentioned above, at

Suzy Subways is a Philadelphia-based journalist and AIDS activist. She recently left New York City and POZ, a monthly national magazine for people living with HIV, where she edited the news and culture section. A new member of ACT UP/Philadelphia, she currently works as a freelance writer; this is her first article for AIDS Treatment News. Write her at

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