Job Vacancy: Marketing Specialist

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HIV/AIDS and Women's Health - Part Two

What factors put women at risk for HIV?

HIV is spread through blood, pre-seminal fluids, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. The following are the risk factors for HIV transmission:

  • Having anal or vagina sex with a person who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV. Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting HIV because the rectum’s lining is thin and may allow HIV to enter the body during sex.
  • Sharing needles and other injection equipment with an HIV-positive person.
  • In women, several factors can increase the risk of HIV transmission. For example, during vaginal or anal sex, a woman has a greater risk of getting HIV because, in general, receptive sex is riskier than insertive sex. Age-related thinning and dryness of the vagina may also increase the risk of HIV in older women because these can cause a tear in the vagina during sex and lead to HIV transmission. A woman’s risk of HIV can also increase if her partner engages in high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or having sex with other partners without using condoms.

Are there any issues that affect HIV treatment in women?

Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone with HIV. Treatment with HIV medicines helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

Women should take HIV medicines as soon as possible after HIV is diagnosed. However, birth control and pregnancy are issues that can affect HIV treatment in women.

Birth control

Some HIV medicines may reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills, patches, rings, or implants. Women taking certain HIV medicines may have to use an additional or different form of birth control.


Women with HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth reduce the risk of perinatal transmission of HIV and protect their own health.
The choice of an HIV treatment regimen to use during pregnancy depends on several factors including a woman’s current past or past use of HIV medicines. Other medical conditions she may have, and the results of drug resistance testing. In general, pregnant women with HIV can use the same HIV treatment regimens recommended for non-pregnant adults unless the risk of any known side effects to a pregnant woman or her baby outweighs the benefits of a regimen.
Sometimes a woman’s HIV treatment regimen may change during pregnancy. Women and their healthcare providers should discuss whether any changes need to be made to an HIV regimen during pregnancy.

HIV Symptoms in Women

There are a few signs that happen only in women, often in the later stages of infection:

  • Changes in your period: You may have lighter or heavier bleeding, skip periods, or have severe PMS. Stress or other STDs, which are common with HIV, can cause these issues. But they may also happen because of the virus's effects on your immune system, which may change your hormones.

  • Lower belly pain: This is one of the signs of an infection of your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can also cause:
    • Unusual vaginal discharge
    • Fever
    • Irregular periods
    • Pain during sex
    • Pain in your upper belly

  • Vaginal yeast infections: Many women with HIV get these often, sometimes several times a year. When you get a yeast infection, you can have:

    • Thick white discharge from your vagina
    • Pain during sex
    • Pain when you pee 
    • Vaginal burning or soreness


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