What Every Woman Needs to Know About HIV/AIDS

Woman holding condom

Sunday, March 10th, is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. On this day, both local and national groups come together to show support for women and girls affected by HIV/AIDS. In the United States, there are 1.1 million people living with AIDS and nearly a quarter of them (25%) are women.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency syndrome, is a virus spread through bodily fluids. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, eventually rendering it unable to fight off other infections and disease. AIDS is the most advanced form of HIV. There’s currently no cure for HIV, but there are medications that can be used in treatment.

Since knowledge about HIV/AIDS began to be established and spread in the 1980s, significant progress in research and public understanding has been made. However, there’s still a stigma surrounding people who are HIV+. Any woman who has sex is at risk for contracting HIV. National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a great opportunity to get educated about how to protect yourself from HIV.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Get Educated and Tested

One of the biggest ways you can protect yourself from HIV is by learning the facts. HIV is most commonly spread to women by heterosexual intercourse, but it can also be spread through other contact with infected bodily fluids, like sharing needles. HIV may cause flu-like symptoms shortly after infection and will continue to infect the body, weakening your immune system and making you susceptible to other viruses and infections. HIV can go undetected for years, the way to know for sure whether or not you have HIV is to get tested.

Practice Safe Sex

If you’re currently sexually active, the best way to protect yourself from HIV is by using condoms. You should use a condom every time you engage sexually; HIV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Best practice dictates you limit your number of sexual partners. You can guard yourself by abstaining from sex, or by having monogamous sex with one partner who’s also HIV-free and not having sex with anyone else or sharing drug equipment.

Fight Addiction

If you currently take drugs or medication intravenously, you should take extreme caution to make sure your syringes or other equipment are not used by anyone else. You should also refrain from using needles and other equipment that belongs to someone else. Drugs and alcohol can also encourage you to take sexual risks like having unprotected sex, which increases your chances of contracting HIV. If you’re already HIV+, alcohol and drugs can also weaken your immune system, leaving you doubly exposed. If you currently take unprescribed drugs, seek medical help to help you fight your addiction.

Take Extra Precautions if You’re Pregnant

If you’re pregnant, get tested for HIV. This will enable you to educate yourself and plan accordingly. Thousands of healthy, non-HIV+ babies are born to HIV+ mothers every year. If you are pregnant and HIV+, talk to your doctor about medication and your options. Medication taken pre-birth by the mother and post-birth by the child can dramatically lower the risks of passing on the HIV virus. Additionally, delivering your child via cesarean section can provide an infection-free alternative to vaginal birth.

Talk with your partner(s)

Talking openly with your sexual partner(s) can decrease your likelihood of contracting or spreading HIV unknowingly. The fewer partners you’ve had, the less likely you are to contract HIV. If your current partner is HIV+, they should speak to a physician to get a prescription that will reduce their likelihood of transmitting the virus to you.

If You’re HIV+, Seek Help

Thanks to advances in medical science, people who are HIV positive are able to live long and healthy lives. Although there is no “cure” for HIV, the virus can be managed by taking daily medication. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of drugs that reduce the amount of virus (or viral load) in your bodily fluids. Doctors recommend beginning ART treatment as soon as you’re diagnosed, as any time without treatment allows HIV to further weaken your immune system. If you’re taking the recommended daily dosage, your risk of passing the virus to others is dramatically decreased.

What You Can do to Help Others

Encourage Others to Get Tested

Many people will not get tested for HIV unless they’re prompted to. However, most insurances cover HIV testing. Take the initiative for your loved ones and encourage them to get tested for HIV; offer them a ride or to go with them to provide moral support. HIV testing is recommended for everyone at least once in their lifetime, and it’s recommended yearly for people who are at risk.

Put Your Education to Use

Once you’ve done your research and gotten tested, plan ways to use your HIV education. This step will look different for everyone – it may be planning a fundraiser, organizing an educational event, sharing information in a social media campaign, or volunteering with HIV+ patients. There’s no limit to your creativity when it comes to helping others. There are lots of resources and online toolkits for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day you can use to reach people.

Destigmatize HIV

The battle against HIV is not only a medical battle but also a battle against misconceptions and misinformation. Many people who are HIV+ face discrimination based on biases against social groups, specific sexual behaviors, and drug use. HIV is not spread through hugs or skin to skin contact, toilet seats, dishes, doorknobs, the air, or by insects like ticks or mosquitoes. You can use online resources and your education to fight miseducation and bias against people who are HIV+.

If you’d like to get tested for HIV, begin treatment, or have questions about the virus, contact the team at Capital Women’s Care. We’re here to provide you with education, support, and treatment.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.

 

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