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HIV and Women

How does human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection…
How is HIV infection spread?
What happens after a person becomes infected with…
How can I be tested for HIV?
Who should be tested for HIV infection?
Is there treatment for HIV infection?
What can I do to prevent HIV infection?

How does human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection occur?

HIV occurs when the virus enters the bloodstream through certain body fluids — blood or semen in most cases.

Once the virus is in the bloodstream, it begins to invade and kill the cells of the immune system. This causes your body to be less able to fight diseases.

White blood cells are responsible for fighting off infection, so when these cells are killed in patients with HIV, the body becomes at high risk for serious infections and certain cancers.

How is HIV infection spread?

  • HIV is spread through contact with certain types of body fluids of an infected person, such as through sex or by sharing needles used to inject drugs.
  • An infected pregnant woman could pass HIV to their baby or through breastfeeding.
  • Once infected with HIV, you remain a carrier of the disease and can always pass it to others.
  • HIV cannot be spread through casual contact with people or things and cannot get through unbroken skin.

What happens after a person becomes infected with HIV?

  • HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), but not right away.
  • HIV attacks the body’s immune system over time.
  • Shortly after becoming infected with the virus, some people have a brief illness similar to the flu. As the immune system becomes weaker, infected patients may have:
    • Fatigue
    • Weight loss
    • Fever
  • When a person has certain conditions or symptoms that result from a weakened immune system the infection is called AIDS. It is also called AIDS if person’s CD4 cells (a type of white blood cell important for the immune system) drop below a certain level.

How can I be tested for HIV?

  • A blood test can tell you if you have been infected with HIV by looking for HIV antibodies in the blood. The test does not test for AIDS and cannot tell you if you will get sick.
  • A rapid screening test can also quickly test for HIV. It will take about 2 weeks for other types of screening tests.

Who should be tested for HIV infection?

  • Men and women aged 19-64 should be tested for HIV. People in other age groups may need to be tested depending on their risk factors.
  • It is very important for pregnant women to be tested for the virus as part of their prenatal care, even if they do not think they could be infected.

Is there treatment for HIV infection?

Currently, there is not a vaccine to prevent HIV, and there is no cure for AIDS. There are some medications that help protect the immune system and help fight HIV-related infections. Many medications are used together in most cases of HIV.

Your doctor will work with you to determine your medications, when you should take them, and how much you should take. It is important to take your medicine exactly as directed by your doctor to help you live a longer, healthier life.

What can I do to prevent HIV infections?

  • Use latex condoms
    • Condoms made from natural skin or lambskin do not prevent infection.
    • Latex condoms can reduce the chances of an infected person infecting their partner.
  • Ask about your partner’s sexual history and whether they have ever used intravenous drugs
    • You and your partner may both want to be tested before having sex.
    • If you are using IV drugs, get help and try to stop.
    • Do not share needles if you cannot stop.
    • HIV infected blood left on the needles after injecting can get into someone else’s blood stream if you share needles.