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.
Safer sex rules:
1. Use a condom for vaginal and anal sex.
2. And because everybody loves different things: do your own personalised
People who experience flu-like symptoms after a high-risk situation for HIV (after unprotected vaginal or anal sex, especially in regions of the world where HIV is widespread or with a partner from one of those regions) should seek advice from a doctor on whether an HIV test makes sense.
Those who do not experience flu-like symptoms after a high risk situation can do the Risk Check to help them better assess their situation.
In either case it would be beneficial for them to talk to their doctor about their sex life and about protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
An HIV test is also recommended as the standard of care during pregnancy.