AIDS: Why safe sex is so important

AIDS: Why safe sex is so important

Around 36 million people worldwide are still infected with the HI virus today. Although new infections have fallen from around three to two million infected people yearly since the turn of the millennium, responsible behaviour and protection for oneself and others are still highly topical issues today. There is still no cure for HIV or AIDS.

Numerous new infections with HIV

Only the number of new HIV infections in the group of men with same-sex sexual contacts (MSM) has fallen slightly in Germany since 2005. In all other groups, new infections have remained unchanged or even decreased in recent years.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), however, an increase in sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhoea has been observed for some time. 

For many, the temporary decline in new infections with HIV and other sex-transmitted diseases seems to give the false impression that there is a lack of adequate protection when it comes to sexual contact.

However, the risk of infection with HIV should be taken just as seriously today, both by homosexual men and by all other sexually active people, as it was at the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s.


HIV and AIDS – what is behind it?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) gradually destroys the body’s immune system. Because the HI virus has the property of penetrating cells of the body’s defence system, changing the genetic material there and destroying the cells in the long term.

Many cells are affected, especially the CD4 cells, the so-called helper cells, which play an essential role in the immune system since they control some cells, among other things.

This gradually reduces the number of important CD4 cells until the immune system finally collapses. The body is defenceless, and at this stage, infections that are usually entirely harmless become a life-threatening threat to the body.

These typical infections, such as those associated with tuberculosis and fungal infections, are opportunistic. Certain tumour diseases also occur more frequently at this stage. Only now does one speak of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

Safer sex: always up to date

The sales figures for condoms in Germany have been at record levels for several years. In the 1990s, only about 50 per cent of the sexually active group under the age of 45 used condoms; today, it is almost 80 per cent. 

Because more than 80 per cent of all new HIV infections in Germany are caused by sexual contact, nobody should underestimate the risk of infection.

The public’s perception that thanks to improved treatment options, an HIV infection can now be easily treated and, above all, no longer has to lead to death could contribute to this. However, this is a misleading assessment.

The number of people who died as a result of an HIV infection in 2015 has fallen to around a fifth of the peak values ​​reached in the mid-1990s. However, an average of almost 500 people still die every year in Germany as a result of their HIV infection.

There is no telling when a cure for AIDS will be found.


Possibilities of infection with HIV

There are several ways in which you can become infected with HIV:

  • Blood and blood residues (e.g. also from injection equipment)
  • Sperm
  • vaginal discharge
  • breast milk

Infection with the HI virus can only occur if these liquids get on mucous membranes or in open wounds. The main transmission route is sexual intercourse without a condom.

HIV in banked blood

Stored blood and other blood products are tested for HIV in Germany at great expense, so they are theoretically HIV-free. The minimal residual risk, which always remains, can be avoided by donating your blood. This means that you donate your blood in good time before a planned surgical procedure, which is then returned to you during the operation.

Not every contact carries the risk of infection.

People are often unsure how to deal with people infected with HIV. The fear of infection is unfounded in many everyday situations. HIV cannot be transmitted through:


If in doubt: HIV test

If there is a possibility of infection with HIV, an appropriate test should be carried out. Your family doctor can carry out an HIV test, as can the health authorities, which are often very inexpensive, as well as some AIDS advice centres.

The HIV test consists of a simple blood draw and must always and without exception only be carried out with the express consent of the person being examined.

In all facilities that carry out an HIV test, there is a strict duty of confidentiality for the employees. You have the result after three days at the latest.

The test looks for antibodies against the virus, which the body forms when defending itself against it. It takes an average of 10 to 12 weeks after an infection before these become detectable. No statement can be made about an infection only a few days ago.

To be safe, if an infection is suspected until a negative test result is available, appropriate safety measures (condoms, avoiding blood contact, etc.) should be observed.

HIV test positive – how reliable is the result?

If antibodies are found in the blood, i.e. the test result is positive, a second examination must always be carried out to check this result. Because the test is susceptible, it can also show other antibodies in the blood that have nothing to do with HIV.

The result can be communicated to the person concerned only if both examinations are positive. Even then, blood should be taken and examined again to rule out mishaps during labelling, transport, or laboratory.

In addition to medical advice from the doctor treating you, anyone who is diagnosed as HIV-positive can also rely on the help of numerous advice centres to learn what life with HIV is like.

Conclusion: Safer sex is for our protection

So safe sex is as vital as ever. Given the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, every effort must be made to address these challenges effectively. No one can disregard this danger.

This applies not only to the group of homosexual people but also to those who are sexually active. The consistent use of condoms is, therefore, the central message of AIDS prevention.

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