HIV

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus which destroys the human immune system. There are treatments to counter that effect.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted through contact with semen, vaginal or anal fluid, blood or breast milk. (Sweat, tears, saliva or urine, on the other hand, do not transmit HIV.) The risk of infection varies depending on the situation: As a general rule, there is a risk of infection through anal or vaginal sex. The highest risk comes from getting semen inside you during anal sex; women have an increased risk of infection if they get semen inside their vagina. As far as oral sex (stimulating the genitals with the tongue or mouth; colloquially called “blowjob” if done on a penis) is concerned, scientific research was able to sound the all-clear in recent years: the risk of transmission is exceedingly low.

If the mucous membrane is damaged due to the presence of another sexually transmitted infection, the risk of HIV transmission increases. HIV can also be transmitted through the sharing of syringes for intravenous drug use. An HIV-positive mother can transmit the virus to her child during delivery or while breastfeeding.

What are its symptoms and its consequences?

The first few weeks after infection are called “primary infection” [[Link zu Primoinfektion auf lovelife.ch]]. A few days or up to four weeks after infection, there may be flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat or skin rash. During this initial period after transmission, the virus spreads rapidly and those affected are highly contagious.

This is usually followed by a phase during which the affected person may experience no symptoms and feel healthy over the course of several months or years. This is the “latent period”. However, the virus continues to spread and starts damaging the immune system, which could lead to signs of illness such as general fatigue, weight loss, fever, night sweats, diarrhoea, shortness of breath or skin rash.

The last phase, when the immune system is breaking down, is referred to as “AIDS” (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). To have AIDS means the body’s defences no longer function, and those affected may die from illnesses that present no danger to people without AIDS.

When does an HIV test make sense?

After a high-risk situation [[Link zu Risikotext auf lovelife.ch]], you should consult a specialist on whether you should get tested. If flu-like symptoms appear a few days or up to four weeks after a high-risk situation, it is crucial that you immediately contact a testing centre [[Link zu den Teststellen]] or the family doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of an infection, and an HIV test is important in this situation.

At the beginning of a new relationship, if both partners would like to dispense with condom use in future, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommends that you get tested at the same time.

How is HIV tested for?

An HIV infection is diagnosed with a blood test (HIV antibody test).

A test may be able to establish an infection after as little as 2 weeks. But if that test comes back negative, it should be repeated after six weeks, which is the earliest an infection can be positively ruled out. There are also HIV home testing kits; here, the waiting time between high-risk situation and earliest date an HIV infection can be positively ruled out is three months. Because of the risk of forgeries, you should buy your home testing kit from a specialist retailer rather than online.

How is HIV treated?

It is very important to detect (test) an HIV infection quickly and treat it effectively in order to minimise damage of the immune system. Before long, the affected person can no longer infect anyone else. But HIV remains a serious chronic infection that requires consistent treatment. HIV is treated with antiretroviral drugs, which must be taken daily and, according to the current state of the science, for the rest of the affected person’s life. Fortunately, the treatment is now almost free of side effects.

Can HIV-positive people dispense with condom use if they are undergoing treatment?

If an HIV infection is successfully treated (i.e. when the viral load in the blood is undetectable), the virus can no longer be transmitted during sex. For that reason, condomless sex during successful HIV treatment is considered safer sex, as is the consistent use of condoms during anal and vaginal intercourse. Whether a treatment is successful and whether one can dispense with condom has to be cleared with a doctor.

How can an infection be prevented?

Properly used, high-quality condoms (ideally with a quality seal) of the right size (cf. mysize.ch [[Link zu mysize.ch]], protect against HIV. You can now also protect yourself through medication (pills). It’s called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. If you’re interested in this option, contact an HIV counselling centre.

If you’ve been in a high-risk situation for HIV infection, go to a hospital emergency room or a Checkpoint centre [[Link zu Adressen]] within 24 hours. A ripped or slipped condom during sex with an HIV-positive person not undergoing successful treatment, for example, represents a high-risk situation.

Consistent adherence to the safer sex rules protects against HIV:

  1. Vaginal and anal sex with a condom
  2. And because everybody likes it differently: do the personalised Safer Sex Check at lovelife.ch.