HIV and AIDS
HIV is the acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV attacks the immune system, which actually should protect the body against diseases. Untreated, HIV leads to AIDS, which stands for Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome.
How Do I Know if I Have HIV?
An HIV infection may look very different. Many people develop e.g. flu-like symptoms within the first weeks after infection. Some don’t notice any change and the infection goes undetected for years. But HIV stays in the body and the infection progresses for years and can be spread to others.
Over time the immune system becomes weaker and weaker until the body is no longer able to fight off infections and other diseases like cancer.
Nowadays an HIV infection is highly treatable.
The treatment for HIV with antiretroviral medication should be started as soon as possible after someone is diagnosed with HIV. This way it’s possible to prevent an irreversible damage of the immune system and the progress to AIDS.
Therefore an HIV Test is recommended after a potential exposure to HIV. The staff members of the public health departments in NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) will be glad to counsel you and provide free and anonymous HIV testing. We, the staff members of the counseling centers on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), are there for you. We offer confidential, anonymous an free counseling and testing on HIV.
Counseling and Testing Services
Counseling Centers in NRW
In comparison to other disease germs HIV is relatively difficult to transmit.
Infectious body fluids have to get in contact with mucous membranes or damaged tissue for transmission to occur.
Infectious body fluids:
- sperm (semen)
- vaginal fluid
- rectal fluid
- breast milk
Most people get infected by having unprotected anal or vaginal sex. The risk for getting HIV-infected through oral sex is very low.
HIV can also be spread:
- by sharing needles or syringes e.g. for drug abuse,
- from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
Being infected with another sexually transmitted infection (STI) increases the risk of getting or transmitting HIV.
HIV cannot be transmitted through everyday situations of living together, like using the same toilet or drinking from the same glass. One can neither get HIV by hugging, “social” kissing, caressing or shaking hands with an HIV-positive person nor from the sneezing or coughing of a person with HIV.
How to Protect Yourself
Condoms are a safe protection against HIV. During oral sex you should avoid oral contact with blood, semen, vaginal or rectal fluid. Condoms and dental dams protect you.
If you inject drugs intravenously use only your own syringes and needles.
To prevent a transmission from mother to child an HIV test is provided during pregnancy. If you test positive, antiretroviral medication can prevent the HIV transmission to the child during pregnancy and birth. You should avoid breastfeeding even if you have an undetectable viral load thanks to the medication.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) can be a possibility to protect against HIV. Therefore somebody HIV-negative takes medicine against HIV preventatively.
In case you’ve had a high-risk contact with somebody HIV-positive, e.g. because the condom busted, you have the chance of preventing an HIV infection afterwards by taking HIV medicine as a Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). PEP should idealy get started during the first 24 hours after a potential exposure to HIV.
HIV-positive people who are treated successfully with HIV medicine are not infectious. This is called protection by therapy.
How to Be Diagnosed?
An HIV infection can be detected by an HIV Test that is performed on blood.
An HIV infection is not yet curable, but can be treated successfully with a special medication – called antiretroviral therapy. If you start the treatment soon enough, you can live a relative normal life and live as long as without being infected.
AIDS/STI counseling centers of public health departments in NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) provide anonymous and free HIV tests.
Good to know
We, the staff members of the counseling centers on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) are there for you. We provide confidential, anonymous and free counseling and testing on HIV/AIDS. In case of a positive test result, we will support you and your loved ones.