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.
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.