Worldwide, women account for more than half of the number of people living with HIV. In Western Australia, the majority of confirmed cases of HIV in women are attributed to heterosexual contact. Many women test late, thus putting themselves at more risk of serious health issues. This begs the question – how much do we know about HIV in women? And would you be able to spot the early symptoms?
Initial symptoms of HIV in women
There are varying symptoms of HIV in women depending upon the stage of the infection. During the acute stage (new infection), flu-like symptoms may last one to two weeks. During the asymptomatic stage, an infected person can look and feel healthy. Research has found that more than half of the diagnoses among Western Australian women had been living with HIV for four or more years. Being diagnosed late can affect a person's immune system and their health. They may also pass on infection unknowingly to someone else.
How HIV is acquired
HIV is transmitted from one person to another by the exchange of certain bodily fluids. Some activities that can put women at risk of infection include:
- Having unprotected penetrative sex or unprotected oral sex;
- Sharing injecting, piercing and tattooing equipment;
- Mother to child transmission, before and during birth or through breastfeeding.
Pregnancy and HIV
With the advances in HIV care and treatment, many women are living longer, healthier lives. As they think about the future, some of these women are deciding to have the babies they always wanted. HIV treatment has also greatly reduced the chances that a mother will pass HIV on to her child. If you do not have HIV but your partner does, talk to your doctor about ways to protect yourself from HIV while trying to get pregnant.
How to stay safe
The best way to protect yourself from getting HIV is to practice safe sex.
- Condoms are not just for stopping pregnancy, but also the best way to protect against HIV and other STDs/STIs.
- If you believe that you are at risk of HIV, ask your doctor about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Taken daily, this medicine will greatly reduce your chances of acquiring HIV.
- If you or your partner is HIV positive, there are treatments available that can help to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. This will further reduce the risk of passing on the virus through sexual contact.
Stay informed, be vigilant, and get tested
Remember, HIV can thrive in the human body without producing any symptoms. The only way to know for sure if you are in the clear is to get tested.
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For more information also see www.waaids.com.au
*Western Australian Government Department of Health (2018) 2018 Third Quarter STI and BBV Report, Perth.
*The latest data from the Department of Health shows that there were 67 new HIV diagnoses in WA in the last year (Oct 17 – Sep 18). Compared to the year before, there was a 7% total decrease in the total number of HIV notifications (72 to 67). Of these, 52% were from male to male contact while 41% of transmissions were from heterosexual contact. In the October 2017 – September 2018 period, the total number of HIV notifications in males decreased by 18% (65 to 55), while female HIV notifications doubled from 6 to 12 cases.**