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What is AIDS?

What Does AIDS Mean?

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:

  • Acquired means you can get infected with it; 
  • 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.

Tests for HIV look for these antibodies in your blood or mouth lining.  If you have them in your blood, it means you have HIV infection. 

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.

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.  

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 mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of an infected woman. 

What Can Be Done To Prevent AIDS?

  • Get tested and know your partner's HIV status.
  • Have less risky sex.
  • Use condoms.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis.
  • Don't inject drugs. 

Infographic on AIDS