The Human Immune deficiency Virus, abbreviated as HIV, is also called the human immunodeficiency virus.

Currently, two different species of HIV virus are known:
HIV type 1 was described for the first time in 1983.
HIV type 2 was discovered in 1986.

In 2005, an international team of researchers proved for the first time that these viruses had originated in monkeys. How the virus was transmitted to humans still remains unclear, however. Around 1966, the virus is thought to have travelled from Africa to Haiti and from there to the USA, where the first infections with the virus were described in 1981. The first infection in Europe was reported in 1982. Since the discovery of the HIV virus, approx. 60 million people throughout the world have been infected with it, and annually there are about 5 million new infections, of which 800,000 are in children under the age of 15. In Germany, it is assumed that there are approx. 3,000 new infections each year.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the virus spread worldwide. To date, it has claimed around 39 million lives. It is estimated there are currently about 80,000 people living with the infection in Germany. HIV infections no longer affect only people in the groups thought to be most at risk of acquiring it. It has now reached the very heart of society. The rate of non-diagnosed HIV infections is likely to be 30 %.
The HIV virus is spread by contact with body fluids (including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk). Fresh wounds and mucous membranes (conjunctiva of the eyes, anal and vaginal mucosa) are the entry points to infection. Unprotected sexual intercourse, the use of dirty, often shared syringes (for drug use), blood transfusions (rare in Germany) and needle puncture injuries (such as with medical staff) and non-disinfected medical devices (abroad) are the most common paths of infection.

An HIV infection initially goes through various stages.
After 3-6 weeks, non-specific symptoms often occur, such as night sweats, fever, lethargy, rashes and joint pain — a similar pattern to a flu infection. Because of this similarity, the HIV infection often remains unrecognised. In 18 % of cases, new infections are also completely without symptoms. There is usually an initial phase of several years in which no serious symptoms occur. The „helper” cells in the blood are constantly being destroyed, producing a weakening of the immune system. For years, however, the body is able to replace the destroyed cells by producing new cells.
Nevertheless, if the infection is left untreated, the continuous decline in the number of helper cells leads to immunodeficiency after about 9-11 years.

An HIV-infected person is referred to as being HIV-positive. The person may later develop AIDS, the late stage of the HIV infection.
The abbreviation AIDS stands for (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS can appear months or years after the person has been infected with the HIV virus.
Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites occur in HIV-positive people more frequently than in healthy people, and there may be certain types of cancer that develop because of the weakened immune system.

To date, no cure has been found, but modern HIV therapy makes it possible for most patients to have an almost normal life expectancy today. Between the infection and initial diagnosis, there is usually a period of years during which the virus continues to spread. Therefore, valuable years have also been lost for the start of early and effective therapy. An early diagnosis ensures that life expectancy will be practically normal.

Test procedure
The identification of the pathogen was the necessary basis for developing an antibody test, which to this day is still the standard test in routine diagnostics. Frequently, HIV infections are diagnosed too late.
Serological test procedures search for the antibodies against the virus that are produced by the immune system. It can take up to three months until the antibodies are detected in the blood following an infection. In the event of an HI-1 virus infection, modern tests (HIV-1/2 antibody / p24 antigen combination test) can already detect an antigen (p24) in the early phase, even if no antibodies have yet been produced.

Indications for performing the HIV-1/2 antibody / p24 antigen combination test are:

  • Risky sexual behaviour
  • Sexual contact (unprotected) abroad
  • Contact with HIV-infected blood
  • Drug injections
  • Needle puncture wounds (with infected needles)
  • Blood transfusions obtained abroad
  • When there is a frequent change of sexual partners
  • Before beginning a new relationship
  • Ambiguous fever
  • Fungal infection in the mouth and throat
  • Shingles

Do you have any questions? We will be glad to advise you.

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