HIV & AIDS

HIV and AIDS

HIV is a virus. It weakens the immune system, which is what the body uses to fight disease. If HIV goes undetected, you can develop AIDS. If it remains untreated, you can die of AIDS. Fortunately, it’s easy to protect yourself and others against an HIV infection – with condoms, for instance.

If you have HIV, you can take medication. Doing so makes it possible to live a good, long life. With HIV you can also give birth to healthy children if you take medication.

What is HIV and what is AIDS?

HIV is a virus. It weakens the body’s immune system, which the body uses to fight disease. If you are infected and do not take medication, in time you could develop the life-threatening disease AIDS.

How can you protect yourself and others against HIV?

  • Use condoms during vaginal and anal sex. Condoms protect against HIV and reduce the risk of most other sexually transmitted diseases. You can buy condoms in supermarkets, pharmacies, drugstores and some petrol stations, for instance.
  • Avoid getting blood or semen (sperm) in your mouth or bodily cavities.
  • Pregnant women with HIV can avoid infecting their baby by taking anti-HIV medicine, by having HIV specialists attend the delivery and by avoiding breastfeeding. In Germany, all pregnant women are offered HIV testing.
  • If you take drugs: Only use your own syringe and needles when injecting yourself with drugs, and do not share used needles. You can get clean needles at a pharmacy or drug counselling centre, for example.
  • Protection through therapy: If an HIV-positive person has taken medication for at least 6 months and these are working effectively, then the HIV virus can no longer be detected in body fluids. In this case, HIV can no longer be transmitted, even through sex without a condom. However, the medications must be taken regularly and a doctor must regularly test if the medication is effective. It is also important that the partner agrees to sex without a condom.
  • PrEP ("pre-exposure prophylaxis"): a PrEP allows an HIV-negative person to take a drug that protects against HIV. The drug must be prescribed by a doctor and you must pay for the drug yourself.

Can you get HIV through everyday situations?

HIV is not easily transmitted. This is why there is no risk of infection through everyday situations. You can live and work with infected people, shake their hands, hug and kiss them, and use the same bathroom, shower and saunas. You can also eat from the same plate, drink from the same glass and use the same cutlery.

HIV is not transmittable through air, saliva (spit), tears, sweat, urine (pee), stool (poop) or insect bites.

How can you tell if you’re infected?

You cannot usually tell that someone has HIV. After infection, the person may feel healthy for many years before the virus increasingly weakens the immune system. The only way to diagnose an HIV infection is through an HIV test.

Why does it make sense to get tested for HIV?

Every individual must decide for him- or herself whether or not to be tested for HIV.

Here are some of the many good reasons to do so:

  • If the test shows that you are not infected with HIV, you can take precautions to prevent becoming infected in the future.
  • Being aware that you have HIV means that you won’t unknowingly infect others but can instead protect them.
  • If you are diagnosed as having an HIV infection, you can speak with your doctor about treatment. The earlier you begin treatment, the better. That way, you can avoid developing the life-threatening disease AIDS. If the treatment is effective, it will also prevent your sex partner(s) from being infected with HIV.
  • An HIV test is also important if you plan on having a child or if you’re already pregnant. A woman with HIV can take special measures to prevent transmission from mother to child.

 

HIV Testing: Where and how?

We recommend getting testing for HIV through a public health office, which are available in every large city. You will not need to provide your name, and the test is either free or not too expensive (usually about 10 to 15 euros). You could also see a doctor, but you will then need to provide your name. These test results will also then be on record in your medical file.

Before testing it’s a good idea to have a thorough consultation – at an HIV/AIDS service organisation, for example. The test will require a small blood sample, which is then analysed in a lab. You can pick up the results in person after a few days. For some tests (rapid diagnostic tests, or RDTs), the results are available in 30 minutes.

What do the results mean?

If the test results are negative, it means that you are not infected with HIV. A positive HIV test result means that you are infected, but this does not necessarily mean that you have or will develop AIDS. We recommend seeing a doctor who specialises in HIV in order to learn about what you can do for your health, when to begin HIV treatment, and how to protect others from becoming infected. Addresses for HIV specialists are available through HIV/AIDS service organisations. Those without health insurance should contact a public health office for help in this matter.

Additionally, an HIV infection has no effect on your residence status. You will not be required to leave Germany because of an HIV infection.

HIV-positive and alone?

Dealing with a positive test result when you’re all by yourself can be hard. Many people with HIV want to learn more about the infection as well as exchange experiences with other HIV-positive individuals. Meetings between people with HIV (known as “Positiventreffen”) provide a good opportunity to spend a few days in a pleasant atmosphere with other HIV-positive people. Many cities also have support groups where you can talk about your experiences, make new friends and become involved in the group’s work. You can learn more about this topic from an HIV/AIDS service organisation.

HIV and pregnancy

You can have a healthy baby even if you are HIV-positive. However, it is important that you are taking anti-HIV medication. These drugs ensure that the virus cannot be transferred to the baby.

If you are planning a pregnancy or if you are pregnant and you are unsure if you may have HIV, get tested! The sooner, the better!

All women with HIV should be seen by a doctor specializing in HIV. These doctors will also help you to find a midwife, gynaecologist and birthing clinic. It is recommended that you bottle feed your baby after the birth.

Tip:

According to the Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act, you have the right to HIV therapy. In case of problems with the social welfare office, seek advice from an HIV/AIDS service organisation.

Related Topics:

The Health Care System in Germany
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Condoms