Women & HIV
|If you are a woman newly diagnosed with HIV or a woman that is currently not HIV positive but in a high risk lifestyle category you may know that many of the treatment options and preventative measures as well as other aspects of the HIV virus are the same for anybody. What you should know, is that there are differences when you are a woman - some subtle, some not so subtle - so educate yourself on these basics so you can be responsible to yourself, your partner and potentially your children both now and in the future.
Stigma against HIV/AIDS is also a barrier to testing and treatment. Studies have shown that stigmatizing beliefs and/or fear of stigma keep people from getting tested for HIV, getting linked to or having access to care, staying in care, getting HIV drugs, and taking their HIV drugs correctly."
As HIV treatment advocate Heidi Nass pointed out, “People who get HIV aren’t doing anything differently than most people they know. The only thing that separates you from all the women who’ve had sexual intercourse with a man or shared a needle but didn’t get HIV is that you got HIV.”
Who's At High Risk
1. Women accounted for an estimated 9,500, or 20%, of the estimated 47,500 new HIV infections in the United States. Most of these (8,000, or 84%) were from heterosexual contact with a person known to have, or to be a high risk for, HIV infection
2. The fourth largest number of all new HIV infections among all people in the United States occurred among African American women with heterosexual contact (5,300 infections).
3. Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in African Americans, 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics
4. At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection, compared with 1 in 106 Hispanic women and 1 in 526 white women.
5. In 2010, the rate of new HIV infections (per 100,000 population) among African American women was 20 times that of white women, and the rate among Hispanic women was 4 times the rate of white women. However, the number of new infections among black/African American women in 2010 (6,100) represented a decrease of 21% since 2008.
6. Young women aged 25 to 44 accounted for the majority of new HIV infections among women in 2010.
How HIV can be spread and increased risk factors for acquiring HIV if you are not HIV positive: - Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex than men. These are some reasons why:
- Many HIV-positive women with HIV-negative partners worry about passing HIV. Research shows in the United States, men pass HIV more easily than women do. But women can still pass HIV to uninfected partners — both male and female — through all kinds of sex. This is because HIV is in blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, and in cells in the vaginal and anal walls.
If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the virus at any time, even if you are getting treatment. But you may be more likely to pass the virus if:
The best way to avoid passing any STI, including HIV, if you do have sex, is to always use a condom every time you have sex.
- It is rare, but it is possible for a woman to get HIV through sexual contact with an HIV-positive woman. Experts think this could happen if soft tissues, such as those in the mouth, come in contact with the vaginal fluid or menstrual blood of a woman infected with HIV. A lesbian or bisexual woman should know her HIV status as well as her partner's. That way, she can take steps to protect herself or others from HIV. You can lower your risk of getting HIV by using condoms every time you have sex with men or when using sex toys. Some suggest using dental dams to lower the risk of getting or spreading HIV through oral sex although, not much research has been done to prove that they are effective.
- Female partners of men who are "on the down low" do not know that their partner is also having sex with one or more men. These women have a higher risk of getting HIV, especially if the male partner had unprotected sex with HIV-positive men.
The recommendations states that PrEP can reduce HIV infection rates. When taken daily as directed, PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent.
The guidelines say PrEP should be considered for HIV-uninfected patients with any of the following indications:
Pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant?
What is the risk that your child will be born with HIV?
The straight answer: if you live in the United States, less than 2%.
It wasn’t always that way. When a woman who is HIV positive has a baby under normal circumstances, the chances that her child will be born with HIV is roughly 25%—one in four.
But, in 1996, a landmark study known as “ACTG 076” showed it was possible to improve those odds dramatically. In this test, women were given AZT—also known as Retrovir (zidovudine)—starting at 14 to 34 weeks of gestation, and then intravenously during labor. Their baby was then administered AZT for the first six weeks of life.
This procedure dropped the rate of transmission from mother to child to just 8.3%—roughly one in twelve, rather than one in four. A huge improvement!
Since then, it has only gotten better. Currently, there are fewer than 250 infants born each year in the United States with HIV, and in almost every case, it was the result of failure to follow established guidelines—often because the mother was non-compliant because of addiction to drugs.
Here are the procedures that have cut down the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV so dramatically:
1. Universal prenatal HIV counseling and testing.
2. Antiretroviral prophylaxis.
3. Scheduled Cesarean Delivery.
4. Avoidance of breastfeeding.
Is there anything else you can do to protect your child? Yes! Give up smoking, drinking and drugs—all of these can have a negative impact on your child. And take vitamins prescribed by your doctor that contain folic acid and calcium, which can reduce the rates of certain birth defects.
Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that you will have a healthy child—not for a woman with HIV or a woman who does not have the virus. But, if you follow your doctor’s orders, the odds are good.
Make use of all of the resources available to you!
Studies show that only 35% of women diagnosed with HIV have the virus under control. If you have recently tested positive or have been living with HIV, visit your nearest AIDS Service Organization (ASO), Community Based Organization (CBO) or Faith Based Organization (FBO) to find answers specific to you. Most of these organizations have a person who can answer your exact question because they’ve been in your shoes. Many also have support groups and peer groups. Most importantly, they can refer you to an HIV specialist, which is the most important thing you can do to live a long and fulfilling life with HIV.
Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!