Skip to content

What is hiv?

The Human immunodeficiency virus (hiv) was discovered in 1983 by a group of French and American scientists. Treatment for the virus became available in 1996 and today we know that the virus cant be passed on by people on treatment.

Hiv is a retrovirus which mainly make use of CD4 cells, a type of immunecells, to replicate and reproduce. The role of the CD4 cells is to function as a cleaner of sort, eradicating cancerous cells, viruses, toxins or other pathogens in the body. However, the immune system is composed of a whole range of different cells, and the CD4 cells are just one type, but without them or with too few, the body will be missing a critical part of its defense against diseases.


When the hiv virus has infected a human, its the CD4 cells role to clean out hiv, but instead of eradicating the virus, the virus is gaining entrance into the CD4 cell. Inside the cell, the hiv virus reprogram the cell to start producing virus copies of itself. These copies are being released into the blood and becomes new targets for other CD4 cells. Paradoxically this chain of events just increases the amount of virus. In the end it leads to a depletion of CD4 cells, and the host(human) falls ill and develops aids, and finally dies if not treatment is started.



AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is the result of an untreated hiv infection. In Sweden, AIDS is primarily seen in people unaware of their hiv status and with an undiagnosed hiv infection.  Having developed AIDS, the risk for opportunistic infections are higher, but with treatment the progression of the disease can be stopped and even turned around, even for someone who have fallen severly ill.

Globally AIDS is still a significant threat. In the last few years the disease has killed around 800 000 people per year, a marked improvement from the 1,5 million people dying form AIDS in the early 2000´s when death tolls peaked.

Treated or untreated hiv?

Approximately 8 000 people are living with hiv in Sweden, and 96% of those are in care and treated with antiretroviral medication. The treatment is supervised by a doctor whom also orders tests and sets up a treatment proctocol. Most people living with hiv in Sweden take one or two pills a day to treat hiv. Today there are more than 30 substances in 7 different classes, usually these are combined into various single tablets.

Treated hiv

  • Not transmitted by sexual contact, even during unprotected sex
  • Undetectable levels of hiv in the blood
  • Normal or near normal life expectancy
  • Slightly increased risk of developing age related diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers.

Untreated hiv

  • Can be transmitted by unprotected sexual contact
  • Often thousands of hiv viral copies per ml blood
  • Without treatment a life expectancy of 2-10 years quiz knowledge attitudes hiv

Quiz your knowledge and attitude towards hiv at (Swedish only)

Not just any virus

Today its possible to live a normal life with hiv and with all the medical success hiv ought to be no big deal, but is that really true?

Only one out of 10 living with hiv in Sweden are open about their status and a majority are also dissatisfied with their sex life. Comorbidities are higher than in the general population and many people living with hiv are also facing stigma.

Hiv carries a legacy. A legacy linked to immoral standards, promiscuity and irresponsibility. In the 80´s, those who contracted hiv through sex or drug abuse were guilty for their own misfortune, whereas infections by blood transfusion was the result of poor hygiene, protocols and a substandard healthcare. The hiv campaigns were large, well funded and reached into every Swedes living room, with a message of be aware and watch out. Today hiv is a labelled a sexually transmitted infection, and the majority contracts hiv through sexual contact. The connection to sex and the history of hiv allows stigma, shame and guilt to be left unchanged. Thus, hiv is not just any virus. It affects our social life, our minds and who we are, maybe now more than ever, as it really should be no big deal.

Frequently asked questions about hiv

How is hiv transmitted?

Hiv can be transmitted through sex if the person with hiv is not under treatment( meaning having an undetectable viral load). If this happens, the person with hiv is most often unaware of their status. With treatment hiv is not passed on during any type of sex, even when a condom is not used.

What are the symptoms for hiv?

The symptoms for hiv varies, a few weeks after the infection some people experience a primary infection with flu like symptoms. Others might not notice much more than a slight drop in energy. Because of the non specific symptoms its impossible to diagnose hiv without a blood test.

Whats the difference between hiv and aids?

Hiv is an abbreviation for human immunodeficiency syndrome . Hiv is a retrovirus attacking a specific type of immune cells called CD4. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the late stage of an hiv infection when the immune system is significantly weakened and susceptible to disease and illness.

How common is hiv in Sweden?

8 000 people are living with hiv in Sweden and 500 people receive a hiv diagnosis every year. Thanks to tracing and interconnected systems of care, the number of people with undiagnosed hiv are estimated to be only around 800 or 10%, which in a global context is very low.

Is it possible to live with hiv?

In Sweden hiv is a chronic condition and it is possible to live a long and full life with hiv. However, treatment is life long and adherence to both appointments and medicine is required. There are restrictions for people living with hiv, these were earlier mostly concentrated around sexual contact, but since most have been lifted only a few remains, such as being an organ donor, donating blood. Certain professions can also be problematic for people with hiv, such as police, military or pilot.

Is it possible to have children?

Hiv is no barrier to having children biologically. For a male and female couple, whomever living with hiv needs to be on treatment. For same sex couples, IVF is still not allowed in Sweden for people living with hiv.

Check your hiv status here!

Most primary care facilities can test for hiv, for example a vårdcentral or ungdomsmottagning(youth health center). All testing is free of charge, you have a right to get tested if you want, and results should not be given by phone. For testing in Malmö we recommend: