The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test. 70-90% of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any. After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.
If you experience the symptoms of early HIV infection — fever, rash and severe sore throat occurring at the same time — then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible. It could be just a bad case of flu, but there is also a risk it could it be the early signs of HIV infection so it always best to know for sure by getting tested.
Here are some facts that every woman should be aware of:
Women have a higher risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex
Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex than men are for several reasons.
- The vagina has a larger area (compared to the penis), that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen.
- Semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex, while men are only exposed to HIV-infected fluids during sex. Semen left in the vagina means a longer exposure to the virus for women.
- Having untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) makes it more likely for a person to get HIV. This is especially true for women. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman’s body.
Women can pass HIV to their partners
Many HIV-positive women with HIV-negative partners worry about passing HIV. Research shows in the United States, men pass HIV more easily than women do. But women can still pass HIV to uninfected partners — both male and female — through all kinds of sex. This is because HIV is in blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, and in cells in the vaginal and anal walls.
If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the virus at any time, even if you are getting treatment. But you may be more likely to pass the virus if:
- You have a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
- You have recently been treated for a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
- You were recently infected with HIV
- Your partner has an infection or inflammation
The surest way to avoid passing any STI, including HIV, is to not have sex. If you do have sex, it’s important to alwaysuse a male condom correctly and every time you have sex.
Click here to find out when you should get tested for HIV and the types of tests available.
According to the latest (2008) WHO and UNAIDS global estimates, women comprise 50% of people living with HIV.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60% of people living with HIV. In other regions, men having sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), sex workers and their clients are among those most-at-risk for HIV, but the proportion of women living with HIV has been increasing in the last 10 years.
This includes married or regular partners of clients of commercial sex, IDU and MSM, as well as female sex workers and injecting drug users.
Gender inequalities are a key driver of the epidemic in several ways:
Gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.
Violence against women (physical, sexual and emotional), which is experienced by 10 to 60% of women (ages 15-49 years) worldwide, increases their vulnerability to HIV. Forced sex can contribute to HIV transmission due to tears and lacerations resulting from the use of force.
Gender-related barriers in access to services prevent women and men from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care. Women may face barriers due to their lack of access to and control over resources, child-care responsibilities, restricted mobility and limited decision-making power.
Women assume the major share of care-giving in the family, including for those living with and affected by HIV. This is often unpaid and is based on the assumption that women “naturally” fill this role.
Lack of education and economic security affects millions of women and girls, whose literacy levels are generally lower than men and boys’.
Many national HIV/AIDS programmes fail to address underlying gender inequalities. In 2008, only 52% of countries who reported to the UN General Assembly included specific, budgeted support for women-focused HIV/AIDS programmes.
Virgin cleansing is the mistaken belief or myth that if a man infected with HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases has sex with a virgin girl, he will be cured of his disease. Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala has recognized the myth as a potential factor in infant rape in South Africa. Anthropologists Nora E. Groce and Reshma Trasi identified a variation of the practice of the virgin cleansing myth whereby individuals who are “blind, deaf, physically impaired, intellectually disabled, or who have mental-health disabilities” are raped under the erroneous presumption that individuals with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgins. It is most prevalent in Zimbabwe where the myth is perpetuated by traditional healers advising HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls. Because of the virgin cleansing myth, as many as ten girls are raped every day. As many as 3,600 girls in Zimbabwe each year may be contracting HIV and AIDS after being raped. UNICEF has attributed the rape of hundreds of girls to the virgin cleansing myth. Cases have been reported in which a one-day-old infant was raped. This is a practice that needs to be banned–abolished. And gender inequality needs to be addressed so that women living with HIV/AIDS will get the treatment they need and not have to live with the stigma and shame. Education and prevention are key to the fight against this epidemic and the organization amfAR founded in 1985, is doing this through innovative research. Read here for the sobering statistics of women and HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world.
This a disease that doesn’t discriminate. I have read stories of women who contracted HIV from their husbands. I read stories of women who contracted HIV from birth or from childhood. HIV/AIDS affect single women, engaged women, married women, women of all races, ages, cultures, backgrounds, etc. Many of those who found out that their partners, boyfriends, fiances and husbands were positive were devastated and afraid to get tested again for fear of the results. Many of them contemplate suicide because they can’t face life with this disease. Mothers worry about leaving their children and pregnant women worry about passing it on to their unborn children. We all know that abstinence is the safest way to go but what do you say to a woman who at the age of 40 is still a virgin because she wants to preserve herself for her husband, finally meets the man of her dreams, they marry and then later down the road she finds out that he is HIV positive? Her life is turned upside down.
I read that even though more men than women have HIV, infections among women is on the rise. the greatest rates of infection occur among women of color (especially African American women). Younger women are more likely than older women to get HIV. AIDS is second only to cancer and heart disease for women.
What can women do?
Get educated! Educate yourself about the different ways that you can acquire HIV and then all the ways to protect yourself. Learn your status so that you can protect yourself and your partners. Teach those around you about how HIV can be transmitted and how you can protect yourself from infection. Work in your community to improve awareness. You and your partner should get tested for HIV and other STDs so that you are aware of each other’s status before you have sex. If you are a pregnant woman, it is especially important that you get tested early to help ensure, that if you are HIV positive, you do not transmit the virus to your unborn child. Talk about HIV and other STDs with each partner before you have sex. Ask your partners if they have recently been tested for HIV; encourage those who have not been tested to do so. Use a latex condom and lubricant every time you have sex. Get tested for HIV once a year.
The good news is that many women with HIV are living longer and stronger lives. With proper care and treatment, many women can continue to take care of themselves and others.
Let’s continue to do everything we can to make HIV/AIDS history.