Pathogen and transmission
HIV is the acronym for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which belongs to the retroviruses. The HI virus is transmitted by unprotected sex as well as by sharing syringes and needles used for consuming drugs. It can also be transmitted during pregnancy from the mother to the child and later by breastfeeding. The risk of transmission during blood transfusions is also increased in countries, in which the technical standards of medical care are lower than in the high income countries.
Shortly after infection the virus proliferates very strongly. This often results in mild, flu-like symptoms that generally disappear after a few weeks. As a defense reaction, the body produces antibodies that can normally be detected in blood at the latest three months following infection. Then a symptom-free phase follows that can last for months or years in which the virus continues to proliferate and damage the immune system. With further progression, non-specific symptoms of disease emerge such as colds, fever, coughs, or swellings of the lymph nodes, until finally characteristic severe infections and tumours appear. This last stage of HIV infection is termed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) if the criteria of the AIDS definition are met.
Thanks to medical therapies, ideally in the early stages of the disease, there is now a real chance that immune deficiency regresses or is prevented from developing. However, an HIV infection is still life-threatening if the therapies are not consistently adhered to for the rest of a patient's life.
Frequency and distribution
There are 37 million people with HIV infection or AIDS worldwide. According to recent estimates, around 16'600 HIV-infected people live in Switzerland.
In order to protect oneself against an infection one has to observe the Safer Sex rules and to avoid sharing syringes and infected needles.
If you have changing or multiple sexual partners during the same time period, talk to your doctor or another specialist about sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and get advice on whether tests may be necessary.
And for everyone having sex:
Because everybody likes it differently: do the personalised Safer Sex Check at www.lovelife.ch.
During pregnancy, regular check-ups with the gynaecologist are essential. In case of an infection, you will discuss measures that can be taken to protect your child.