One in four people living with HIV in the United States is a woman. While any woman can be HIV-positive or get HIV, there are ages, ethnic groups and behaviors that can put a woman more at risk of spreading or contracting HIV. If you are HIV-positive or in one of a few high-risk groups, it's important that you are aware and educated so you can take the precautions necessary to either not spread or not contract HIV.
Higher Risk Activities and Groups
Women Who Have Sex With Men
-You are unaware of your partner's risk factors for HIV. Some men, for example, have sex with men as well as women but do not tell their female partners.
Women Who Have Sex With Women
As a woman who has sex with women, it is also possible to get HIV if:
- You inject or your partner injects drugs with someone who has HIV
You can lower your risk of getting HIV or passing it to your partner by:
- Knowing your HIV status and your partner's HIV status.
Younger women are more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Having an untreated STI makes HIV transmission more likely. An untreated vaginal yeast or bacterial infection can also increase the risk of transmission. This is because the infection brings white blood cells (and therefore CD4 cells that can be infected with HIV) into the area. This is especially true for women, because small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into your body.
Teen girls and younger women are at higher risk for HIV infection than adult women, because their reproductive tract is still developing.
You can get HIV at any age. In fact, the decrease in hormone levels during and after menopause means your vagina will probably not be as lubricated as it used to be. This means that you have a greater risk for tiny cuts in your vagina during sex that can make it easier for HIV to get in.
Other health concerns
African American and Hispanic Women
African-American women made up more than 61% of new HIV infections among women in 2015 but are only 14% of the female population in the United States. African-American women face the highest risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared with women of other groups. However, many African-American women do not know their HIV status. Poverty, stigma, and fear of discrimination may prevent women from getting tested or seeking care if infected.
Hispanic women made up 15% of new HIV infections among women in 2015. Cultural challenges may raise Hispanic women's risk for HIV. Hispanic women may avoid seeking testing, counseling, or treatment if infected because of their immigration status, stigma, or fear of discrimination. Poverty may also prevent Hispanic women from getting care.
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:
-Anyone who is in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-infected partner.
-A gay or bisexual man who has had sex without a condom or has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection within the past six months, and is not in a mutually-monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative.
-A heterosexual man or woman who does not always use condoms when having sex with partners known to be at risk for HIV (for example, injection drug users or bisexual male partners of unknown HIV status), and is not in a mutually-monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative.
-Anyone who has, within the past six months, injected illicit drugs and shared equipment or been in a treatment program for injection drug use.
Of course, many recommend that you are best protected by using both PrEP and a condom for the most protection if you are engaging in high-risk sexual behavior.
PrEP is a single pill (single tablet HIV regimen) branded Truvada. Because it is so important and deserves much more space than we can give it here, please visit https://start.truvada.com for more information and possible financial assistance.
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.
In the United States today, expectant mothers are offered the opportunity to have an HIV test. Obviously, doctors can’t do anything to keep your baby from being born with HIV if they don’t know you have it yourself. So this is the universal first step.
2. Antiretroviral prophylaxis.
A complicated way of saying: Treating the mother with combination HIV therapy. Studies show that mothers who are taking HIV medications and have an undetectable viral load have a very low risk of passing along HIV to their babies. So doctors will often recommend that expectant women start HIV therapy to protect their babies. The higher your viral load, the greater the chance that you will pass on HIV to your child. The lower your viral load, the lower the danger of transmission.
3. Scheduled Cesarean Delivery.
A C-Section can protect your baby from exposure to your genital tract virus during passage through the birth canal. This is generally recommended for women who have a viral load greater than 1,000. Women who have viral loads below 1,000 have very low rates of infected babies, and a C-section doesn’t seem to make any difference.
4. Avoidance of breastfeeding.
A woman can give HIV to a baby who was born healthy through her breast milk. So, in the United States—where bottle-feeding is a safe and practical alternative—women with HIV (even those on HAART), are advised to avoid breastfeeding their children.
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.
Copyright 2018, 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!