AIDS InfoNet www.aidsinfonet.org
Fact Sheet Number 101
WHAT IS AIDS?
WHAT DOES “AIDS” MEAN?
A Project of the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center. Partially funded by the National Library of Medicine
Fact Sheets can be downloaded from the Internet at http://www.aidsinfonet.org
• Acquired means you can get infected
Immune Deficiency means a weakness
in the body’s system that fights diseases.
• Syndrome means a group of health
problems that make up a disease.
AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV, the
Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you get
infected with HIV, your body will try to fight
the infection. It will make “antibodies,”
special molecules to fight HIV.
A blood test for HIV looks for these
antibodies. If you have them in your blood, it
means that you have HIV infection. People
who have the HIV antibodies are called
“HIV-Positive.” Fact Sheet 102 has more
information on HIV testing.
Being HIV-positive, or having HIV disease,
is not the same as having AIDS. Many
people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for
many years. As HIV disease continues, it
slowly wears down the immune system.
Viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria that
usually don’t cause any problems can make
you very sick if your immune system is
damaged. These are called “opportunistic
infections.” See Fact Sheet 500 for an
overview of opportunistic infections.
HOW DO YOU GET AIDS?
You don’t actually “get” AIDS. You might get
infected with HIV, and later you might
develop AIDS. You can get infected with
HIV from anyone who’s infected, even if
they don’t look sick and even if they haven’t
tested HIV-positive yet. The blood, vaginal
fluid, semen, and breast milk of people
infected with HIV has enough of the virus in
it to infect other people. Most people get the
HIV virus by:
having sex with an infected person
sharing a needle (shooting drugs) with
someone who’s infected
being born when their