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HIV/AIDS in Women

AIDS Symptoms, Protection, Getting Tested

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Updated December 02, 2010

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

While both men and women experience many of the same symptoms, women frequently must contend with some distinctively female signs of HIV infection such as:

  • Persistent or severe vaginal infections particularly vaginal yeast infections.
  • Pap smears that indicate cervical dysplasia or other abnormal changes.
  • Pelvic infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID.)

Although women with HIV frequently experience these women’s health conditions, women without HIV also experience vaginal infections, abnormal Pap smears, and pelvic infections.

Other signs and symptoms that may indicate HIV infection include:

  • Genital warts
  • Genital ulcers
  • Severe mucosal herpes infections

Frequently, within a few weeks of infection, both men and women experience flu-like symptoms. Others do not experience signs or symptoms of HIV or AIDS until several years later. This makes HIV testing imperative for those with current or previous high risk behaviors. Other symptoms often experienced as HIV/AIDS progresses include:

  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarm area, or groin
  • Frequent fevers that include night sweats
  • Rapid weight loss without dieting
  • Constant fatigue
  • Decreased appetite and diarrhea
  • White spots or abnormal blemishes in the mouth

Remember, the only way you can know whether or not you have HIV/AIDS is to get tested.

What are high risk behaviors?

Because we know that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal secretions, it’s easy to understand that high risk behaviors associated with HIV/AIDS include:

  • Current use or history of illegal drug use utilizing hypodermic syringes
  • A history of having sex for drugs or money
  • Having unprotected sex with a man who has had sex with another man
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who currently or previously injected street drugs
  • A history of multiple sex partners, or having a partner whose history includes multiple sexual partners
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who has any of these risk factors

Your risk for HIV increases if you have a previous or current diagnosis of hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or STDs, or if you received a blood transfusion or clotting factor between 1978 and 1985 when blood was not routinely screened for HIV antibodies.

You don’t get HIV/AIDS by kissing, using the same utensils, hugging, through sweat or saliva, or the normal interactions of everyday life. While not a single case of HIV is traceable exclusively to woman-to-woman sexual activity, researchers cannot say with certainty that woman-to-woman sex is not a risk factor for HIV infection.

How can I protect myself from HIV/AIDS infection?

Protection against HIV/AIDS is virtually certain for anyone who remains sexually abstinent, and never engages in the use of illegal drugs. That’s probably not going to happen for most so consistent and correct use of condoms and/or dental dams is imperative for those who are not in long term monogamous relationships. Of course while condoms and dental dams may offer your best protection against HIV/AIDS, you should be aware that condoms or dental dams are not foolproof. Condoms occasionally break and are never a guarantee of protection against HIV/AIDS, STDS, or pregnancy.

Never try to “double protect” yourself by using both a male and female condom at the same time. This is likely to damage one or both condoms, thereby failing to protect either partner from HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD).

How do I get tested for HIV?

A simple blood test that checks for HIV-antibody is all that is required to determine whether you are infected. This test detects the presence of antibodies produced by the body in an attempt to fight HIV.

If you believe HIV exposure has occurred, talk to your health care provider about HIV testing. While the average length of time from exposure to the presence of detectable HIV antibodies is 20 days it can take as long as 6-12 months in some cases before antibodies are present. You’re health care provider may recommend testing at one month, three months, six months, and one year after exposure.

In addition to your own physician, your local health department, STD clinic, or family planning clinic can help you get tested. To learn more about HIV testing and find a testing clinic in your area visit the CDC’s National HIV Testing Resources site at http://www.hivtest.org or call the CDC National AIDS Hotline 24-hours a day, 365 days a year at:

  • 1-800-342-AIDS (1-800-342-2437)
  • 1-800-AIDS-TTY (1-800-243-7889) TTY
  • 1-800-344-SIDA (1-800-344-7432) Spanish

Sources: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO)

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  5. STDs - STIs - VD
  6. AIDS/HIV
  7. HIV/AIDS in Women - Symptoms and Prevention of HIV / AIDS in Women

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