National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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Courtesy:  Indian Country Today

It was just few days ago when I learned that March was designated as Women’s History Month.  Well, today, an identical thing happened to me which prompted me to put this post together in a hurry.  I found out just a few minutes ago that today is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  I also discovered that my ignorance of the day is not surprising given that it is a little known observance day.  NNHAAD is a day geared toward drawing attention to and building support for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations.  Here are some facts, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), women account for 29% of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 
  • For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) populations given a diagnosis, 78% were men, 21% were women, and 1% were children (under 13 years of age) in 2005.
  • From 2007 to 2010, new HIV infections among AI/NA populations increased by 8.7% (CDC).

While these percentages may seem low, one must remember to take into account the size of these populations compared to more populous races and ethnicities in the U.S. For example, according to the CDC, in 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, following blacks and Hispanics. To put this into numbers, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2008 per 100,000 persons were:

  • 73.7 Black/African American
  • 25.0 Hispanic/Latinos
  • 22.85 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 
  • 11.9 American Indian and Alaska Native 
  • 8.2 Whites
  • 7.2 Asians

Given that many of these populations live in rural areas, access to health care services can be difficult. Not to mention other roadblocks to obtaining needed services such as language and cultural barriers. Native communities have some of the shortest survival times after diagnosis of HIV/AIDS of all race and ethnicity groups in the U.S.

The report also showed that Native communities are not accessing the much needed care and attention after being diagnosed with HIV.  I also learned that about 26% are living with HIV and don’t even know it.  So, this means that since they don’t know that they have it, they wouldn’t seek medical help.  On the other hand, those who know that they have it, take steps to protect their health and take action to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Thankfully, there are public services like the IHS (Indian Health Service), an agency whose mission is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.  Our goal is to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people.  The IHS operates within Department of Health and Human Services.

The IHS National HIV/AIDS Program is committed to partnering with communities to create lasting change in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We provide programs to assist individuals, families, communities, and health care providers to:

  • Understand how HIV is spread, and share knowledge about HIV with others
  • Get tested for HIV
  • Put policies and procedures in place to offer a HIV testing as a routine part of all health care
  • Improve access to care, treatment, and prevention services needed by people living with HIV and AIDS

IHS providers throughout the country are offering screening more often, collaborating with communities to increase education, and offering care or referrals where direct care is not available. We can all help to reduce the stigma within our culture and among health care providers regarding HIV/AIDS.

I was shocked to learn that March 20, 2016 was the tenth anniversary of this annual awareness day.  I wonder how many people out there who even know that it exists.  Awareness, education and access are key.  And I applaud the many dedicated organizations that are currently working hard within the Indigenous communities to break down barriers and to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.   

The theme for 2016 was:  “Hear Indigenous Voices: Uniting the Bold Voices of American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders.” Last year’s was:  theme is “Unity in CommUnity, Stand Strong to Prevent HIV.” On this day, we recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.  The theme this year is “Unity in CommUNITY: Stand Strong for HIV Prevention.

It is my hope and prayer that long after this year’s National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day passes, that more people will find ways to stand strong for the Native communities.  We have heard the Indigenous voices, stood with them as we recognized that they are impacted by HIV/AIDS and now we must stand strong for prevention.  We have heard the voices, now it is time to be united in the fight to change the tide in this epidemic which discriminates against no one.  The HIV/AIDs is not one group’s or community’s fight but everyone’s fight.

Sources:  Humanitas Global Development; Indian Country Today; Indian Health Service

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Women and Shingles

I found out last week that my mother who suffers from Parkinson’s has Shingles.  From what I have seen of Shingles it looks very painful.  I wanted to find out more about it so I decided to surf the Internet and get as much information as I could.

What is Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster or just zoster, occurs when a virus in nerve cells becomes active again later in life and causes a skin rash.

The virus that causes shingles, the varicella-zoster virus, is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is a member of the herpes virus family. Once you have had chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus remains in your body’s nerve tissues and never really goes away. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

Doctors aren’t sure how or why the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, but they believe your immune system’s response to the virus weakens over the years after childhood chickenpox. When the virus reactivates, it travels through nerves, often causing a burning or tingling sensation in the affected areas. Two or three days later, when the virus reaches the skin, blisters appear grouped along the affected nerve. The skin may be very sensitive, and you may feel a lot of pain.

If you have had chickenpox, you are at risk of developing shingles. However, the virus doesn’t reactivate in everyone who has had chickenpox. Shingles most often appears in people older than 50 and in people with weakened immune systems. If you are having treatment for cancer, for example, you are more likely to get shingles. People with HIV commonly get shingles, which is often one of the first signs that the immune system is in trouble.  Your chances of getting shingles increase as you get older, although the disease can occur at any age. When shingles appears in children, which is uncommon, it usually is very mild. Up to 20% of people in the United States develop the disease at some point (Women’s Health).

None of my sisters nor I ever have Chicken Pox as a child but later when we as adults, my sister and I got it from our mother.  I still have the marks.  I am hoping that I am one of the people in whom the virus does not reactivate.

 

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Recently I have seen a commercial where a person has Shingles and it looks painful.  The rash on one side of  the man’s body looked red and very painful.  When I browsed the Internet, I saw pictures that made me cringe.  How those people must have suffered.  I think of my mother and I hope and pray that she isn’t in much pain.

What are the symptoms?

Pain

Symptoms of shingles are similar in men and women. The first and most common symptom of shingles is usually pain. This pain typically occurs before any rash is present and is sometimes called the warning stage of shingles. Women often describe a tingling, burning pain or an area of intense sensitivity on their skin. This often happens in a small area that is on one side of the body only. The pain may be mild or intense enough to require treatment with painkillers. The pain may last for a few days, may come and go or may be constant. It may continue once the rash and blisters form and usually lessens when the rash disappears.

Rash and Blisters

Another symptom of shingles is a rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters. This usually appears a few days or a week after skin pain starts. The blisters form a crusty scab in about 7 to 10 days and typically clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. The difference between the rash of chickenpox and that of shingles is that shingles usually appears on one side of the body only. Shingles commonly appears in a belt-like band around the midsection, corresponding to skin along the path of one nerve. Sometimes the rash appears on one side of the face and follows the major facial nerve, or it can involve more than just a single area of skin. Some cases of shingles have only a few or even no blisters. A shingle diagnosis can be missed in this case. Shingles without any rash or blisters is called zoster sine herpete.

Other Symptoms

Once the rash appears, women sometimes report flu-like symptoms, such as headache, upset stomach, fever and chills. About half of the people who have rash along the facial nerve experience eye complications. These complications are generally seen as inflammation of different parts of the eye and may involve a mucus or pus-like discharge and sensitivity to light. Eye problems from shingles are very serious and should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Some women experience a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. This condition is pain that continues even after the shingles rash is gone. The pain has been described as a constant burning that hurts to the touch or pressure from clothing. It usually resolves on its own, but resolution can take 6 months to a year or even longer (Live Strong).

 

Shingles and pregnancy

Pregnant women can get shingles, but it is rare. While chickenpox can pose a very serious risk to a fetus, there is almost no risk to the fetus if the mother gets shingles. The symptoms of shingles are the same in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Any area of skin that has pain, tingling, itching or burning — even without a rash or blister — should be brought to the attention of a doctor, as this could be the early stages of shingles (Live Strong).  Thankfully, I got chickenpox years before I got pregnant.

 

Does Shingles affect women differently from men? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Most, but not all, studies found that more women than men develop herpes zoster [1,2]; the reason for a possible difference between women and men is not known.
  • Some studies conducted in the United States and elsewhere found that herpes zoster is less common in blacks (by at least 50%) than in whites.[3]

 

How is Shingles Treated?

Self-care

If you develop the shingles rash, there are a number of things you can do to help relieve your symptoms, such as:

  • keeping the rash as clean and dry as possible – this will reduce the risk of the rash becoming infected with bacteria
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing – this may help you feel more comfortable
  • not using topical (rub-on) antibiotics or adhesive dressings such as plasters – this can slow down the healing process
  • using a non-adherent dressing (a dressing that will not stick to the rash) if you need to cover the blisters – this avoids passing the virus to anyone else

Calamine lotion has a soothing, cooling effect on the skin and can be used to relieve the itching.

If you have any weeping blisters, you can use a cool compress (a cloth or a flannel cooled with tap water) several times a day to help soothe the skin and keep blisters clean.

It’s important to only use the compress for around 20 minutes at a time and stop using them once the blisters stop oozing. Don’t share any cloths, towels or flannels if you have the shingles rash.

Antiviral medication

As well as painkilling medication, some people with shingles may also be prescribed a course of antiviral tablets lasting 7 to 10 days. Commonly prescribed antiviral medicines include aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir.

These medications cannot kill the shingles virus, but can help stop it multiplying. This may:

Antiviral medicines are most effective when taken within 72 hours of your rash appearing, although they may be started up to a week after your rash appears if you are at risk of severe shingles or developing complications.

Side effects of antiviral medication are very uncommon, but can include:

 

Can Shingles Be Prevented?

Currently, there is no way to predict an outbreak of shingles.  Researchers have shown that giving older people a stronger form of the chicken pox vaccine used for children can boost the type of immunity believed necessary to hold the virus in check. Zostavax, a shingles vaccine developed by Merck, has been approved by the FDA. An initial study in people with HIV showed that Zostavax was safe and effective (The Body).

 

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles is not contagious (able to spread) in the sense that people who are exposed to a patient with shingles will not “catch shingles.” Anyone who has already had chickenpox or has received the chickenpox vaccine, and is otherwise healthy, should be protected and at no risk when around a patient with shingles. However, people who have never had chickenpox and have not received the chickenpox vaccine are susceptible to infection by a patient with shingles. These susceptible people, if exposed to the shingles virus, will not develop shingles, but they could develop chicken pox. However, people who have never had chickenpox and have not received the chickenpox vaccine are susceptible to infection by a patient with shingles. These susceptible people, if exposed to the shingles virus, will not develop shingles, but they could develop chicken pox. Such susceptible individuals include babies, young children, and unvaccinated individuals, so people with shingles are actually contagious for VZV infections in the form of chickenpox. Consequently, these individuals may get shingles at a later time in life, as can anyone who has had chickenpox. Covering the rash that occurs with shingles with a dressing or clothing helps decrease the risk of spreading the infection to others. Pregnant women are not unusually susceptible to shingles but if shingles develops near the end of pregnancy, the fetus may be harmed (eMedicineHealth).

 

Vaccines for Shingles

The shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is recommended for adults age 60 and older, whether they’ve already had shingles or not. Although the vaccine is approved for people age 50 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t recommending it until you reach age 60.

The shingles vaccine is a live vaccine given as a single injection, usually in the upper arm. The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection site, and headaches.

Some people report a chickenpox-like rash after getting the shingles vaccine.

Although some people will develop shingles despite vaccination, the vaccine may reduce the severity and duration of it.

The shingles vaccine isn’t recommended if you:

  • Have ever had an allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the shingles vaccine
  • Have a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
  • Are receiving immune system-suppressing drugs or treatments, such as steroids, adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), radiation or chemotherapy
  • Have cancer that affects the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant

The cost of the shingles vaccine may not be covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance.  Check your plan (Mayo Clinic).  One of my co-workers got the vaccine this year and recommends that I get one too.

 

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Is there a Cure?

There is no cure for shingles, but treatment can help ease your symptoms until the condition improves. In many cases, shingles gets better within around two to four weeks.  However, it’s still important to see your GP as soon as possible if you recognize the symptoms of shingles, as early treatment may help reduce the severity of the condition and the risk of potential complications (NHS Choices).

 

Caring for Shingles

How to care for a Patient with Shingles

If you are helping to care for someone with shingles and particularly if they are elderly, then here are some ideas to make life more comfortable for them:

  • As soon as the rash appears and has been diagnosed as shingles, start treatment. If treatment can be commenced within two or three days of the outbreak, the shingles will be less severe and there is less chance of the patient going on to suffer from postherpetic neuralgia.
  • You cannot catch shingles by touching the sore skin or the bed or chair where the person has been lying or sitting so if wearing less clothing will make the patient more comfortable then encourage this. Some people with shingles are very sensitive to touch so try to touch only the side of the body that does not have the rash.
  • You can catch chicken pox from a person with shingles blisters so keep anyone who has never had chicken pox away from the patient.  (This particularly applies to pregnant women where there is a danger to the unborn fetus).
  • Relieve any discomfort with cool compresses unless your patient finds it makes the pain worse.
  • Look for ways to relieve the stress of the pain for your patient such as meditation or listening to soothing music.
  • Make sure your patient has a pain reliever if necessary and you may need a prescription for something to help insomnia if this is a problem. In some cases, the pain can be very severe and with such pain, it is hard to find a comfortable position whether sitting, lying down or walking around.  Your patient needs as much sleep as possible.
  • Constant pain can affect your patient’s appetite – try to encourage your patient to eat well (you may need to provide extra tasty treats).
  • Constant pain can also make your patient cross, sad or depressed – this will need extra patience and kindness on your part (Healing Natural Oils).

My mother is doing well.  She is on an anti-viral drug and not in any pain.  I was relieved to find out that her blisters are on her arm and not on her face.  She is frustrated because she is quarantined but the nursing home has to do what is best for all the residents.  I hope she gets better soon.  In the meantime, my family and I will do as she requested and stay away.

If you have a loved one who has Shingles, call them often.   Hearing from you may bring them some comfort.

 

Sources:  Live Strong; Women’s Health; Mayo Clinic; The Body; CDC; eMedicine Health; Healing Natural Oils

Polio Vaccines

I was appalled when I learned of the Nigerian women who were gunned down because they were giving out polio vaccines.  They were killed by gunmen suspected of belonging to a radical Islamic sect shot and killed at least nine as they took part part in a polio vaccination drive in northern Nigeria on Friday, February 8, 2013.  Residents of Kano, Nigeria’s largest city, predominantly Muslim were shocked.  This area is where women usually went from house to house to carry out the polio vaccination drives since families felt safer having them in their homes instead of men.  This attack is a result based on the belief fueled by clerics that the vaccines were part of a Western plot to sterilize young girls.

Washington’s State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the killing and injuring of health workers in Nigeria.  “They were engaged in life-saving work, trying to vaccinate children,” she told reporters. “Any violence that prevents children from receiving basic life-saving vaccines is absolutely unacceptable wherever it happens.”  It is suspected that Boko Haram had been behind the shootings.  Witnesses spoke in anonymity out of fear of angering the sect whose name means “Western education is sacrilege”.

The suspicion surrounding polio vaccinations in Nigeria was kindled in 2003 when a Kano physician heading the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria said the vaccines were “corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies.” This remark led to hundreds of new infections in children in Nigeria’s north where beggars on locally made wooden skateboards dragged their withered legs back and forth in traffic, begging for alms. The 2003 disease outbreak in Nigeria eventually spread throughout the world,  even causing infections in Indonesia.  Nigeria is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.  Afghanistan and Pakistan are the other two.  Imagine last year Nigeria registered 121 new cases of polio infections. This is more than half of all cases reported around the world, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Attacks on health workers giving out polio vaccines are not limited to Nigeria.  The National Post did an article on how the polio vaccine program in Pakistan was proving to be lethal for health workers.  Last year in December, eight of them, mostly young, female and poorly paid were murdered in Karachi and northwestern Pakistan.   Militants in Pakistan have accused health workers of acting as spies for the U.S., alleging that the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.  This accusation comes after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.  The UN has suspended the vaccine program until it’s safe enough to restart.  This may be indefinite unless the government steps in and does something to curb the escalating violence.  In the meantime, foreign aid workers are either being killed or abducted for ransom and teenage girls volunteering to prevent the spread of polio are being killed.  The World Health Organization (WHO) suspended its polio vaccination programme in Karachi following the murders of five members of polio vaccination teams.  All were women and the youngest was 14 years old.  They were all Pakistani nationals working on behalf of WHO and its local partners.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a contagious disease that can be prevented by vaccination. It is spread from person to person and through contaminated food and water. Polio can attack the central nervous system and destroy the nerve cells that activate muscles.  It is heartbreaking to know that children are are going to suffer from this viral disease which can affect their nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis because certain local populations are refusing to allow their children to receive the vaccine.  The communities are worried about sterilization but what about paralysis or in some cases, death?  Why don’t they educate themselves and learn more about how the vaccine works before they flat out refuse to have it administered to their children?

The poliomyelitis ( polio ) vaccine protects against poliovirus infections. The vaccine helps the body produce antibodies (protective substances) that will prevent an individual from contracting polio.  This protects both both individual vaccine recipients and the wider community.  There are two types of vaccine that protect against polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). IPV, used in the United States since 2000, is given as an injection in the leg or arm, depending on patient’s age.  Most people should get polio vaccine when they are children.  OPV has not been used in the United States since 2000 but is still used in many parts of the world.

A global effort to eradicate polio, led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation, began in 1988 and has relied largely on the oral polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin.  The disease was entirely eradicated in the Americas by 1994. Polio was officially eradicated in 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia in 2000.   Europe was declared polio-free in 2002.   Since January 2011, there were no reported cases of the disease in India, and hence in February 2012, the country was taken off the WHO list of polio endemic countries. It is reported that if there are no cases of polio in the country for two more years, it will be declared as a polio-free country.

It is high time that Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan be declared as polio-free countries.  The government needs to protect the health workers who are risking their lives to protect the communities.  It’s time the governments of these countries got serious about eradicating polio so that children are not condemned to living the rest of their lives in wheelchairs or on crutches.  The people need to be educated.  They need information that would counter the tales that polio vaccination is a ploy of the West to spread infidel practices.

It’s time for the governments of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan to stand up and do what is best for their young and vulnerable.  And if nothing is done to stop the spread of this virus, these nations will become crippled and sick.  It’s time to take action.  It’s time to put aside your fears and protect your children and their future.

His parents fear OPV will render his son impotent and that he will never be able to produce children in case of vaccination. Despite repeated attempts, they didn’t understand the significance of the vaccine. As a result, their child is disabled for entire life.SOURCE: Rantburg 2013-02-10 05:25:00

They were engaged in lifesaving work, trying to vaccinate children … Any violence that prevents children from receiving basic life-saving vaccines is absolutely unacceptable, wherever it happens..SOURCE: Arkansas Online 2013-02-09 11:11:00

Having children made us look differently at all these things that we take for granted, like taking your child to get a vaccine against measles or polio.
Melinda Gates

When I was about 9, I had polio, and people were very frightened for their children, so you tended to be isolated. I was paralyzed for a while, so I watched television.
Francis Ford Coppola

polio vaccine

Sources:  http://http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/witnesses-nigeria-sect-group-attacks-polio-drives-18437814; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002375/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polio_vaccine; http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/12/20/pakistans-polio-vaccine-program-proving-lethal-for-health-workers/; http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/info/polio-eng.php; http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Polio-Vaccine.html; http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=149114&Cat=8; http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/polio/default.htm; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/polio/quotes/; http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/polio.html#76XBp9gi2wMCs364.99

Women and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2012 was World AIDS Day.  Different organizations such as Project Have Hope, SOS Children’s Villages, One Billion Rising and UNICEF Canada were raising awareness of a disease which has no cure.  Children are orphaned because of AIDS.  According to SOS Children’s Village, 33.3 million people live with HIV/AIDS and 3.4 million of those affected are children.  Lost, ostracized by family members and friends, these children are often forced to live on the streets in some of the most appalling conditions imaginable.

I remember watching the movie GIA with Angelina Jolie as Supermodel Gia Carangi who died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26.  She was addicted to heroin and other drugs.  She contracted HIV through a shared needle.  What a tragic movie it was to see someone so young and with a successful career spiral downhill because drugs had taken over her life.  She was thought to be the first famous woman to die of AIDS.

General Hospital’s Robin Scorpio came to mainstream attention during a 1990s story arc where her boyfriend Stone Cates dies from AIDS and Robin is diagnosed as HIV-positive.  Robin has since married Dr. Patrick Drake and the couple has a daughter, Emma, who, after a brief scare, is shown not to be infected by Robin’s HIV.

Even though there is way more information about the disease now than back in the ’80s, there are still some questions people have about HIV/AIDS.  Some of the frequently asked questions  are:

1. Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.

2. How is HIV passed on?

HIV is passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and rectal secretions. The most common ways HIV is transmitted are through sex without a condom and through sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment. You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup or plate.

3. Can you get HIV from oral sex?

The risk of HIV transmission from performing oral sex is low but it can still happen. It is best to avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth or bleeding gums, as this increases the risk of HIV entering your body.

4. How can I protect myself and others from HIV infection?

Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic, which you can locate via the FPA website. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

5. What do I do if I don’t like using condoms?

Condoms have come a long way in recent years and you can now get condoms in different sizes, flavours, and with added features to increase pleasure and heighten sensation. Condoms are still the best way to protect yourself and others from HIV infection, and other STIs, so if you think you don’t like using condoms, it’s worth trying out some different varieties.

If you find using condoms or negotiating condom use difficult, it is worth speaking to your local sexual health clinic or GP.

Other questions are:

Will HIV definitely be passed on during sex between an HIV positive and an HIV negative person?

During sex, it is not an automatic consequence that HIV will transmitted. Compared with some other infectious diseases, risk of HIV infection from a single act of sex is usually low. But of course repeated acts of sex increase probability of transmission which is why it is important to have safer sex. Condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV from being passed on so condoms should always be used during sex to avoid HIV and other STIs.

There are other factors which can increase and reduce the risk of having sex with someone with HIV, but a condom is the safest and easiest way to prevent transmission and stay safe.

Is anal sex more risky than vaginal sex when it comes to HIV transmission?

HIV can be transmitted through both anal and vaginal sex, but in some circumstances there is greater risk involved in anal sex. This is because anal sex carries a greater risk of trauma (such as tearing of the skin and bleeding) which makes it easier for the HIV infection to get through.

What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?

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.

What should I do if I experience symptoms of early HIV infection?

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.

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Sources:  http://www.hivaware.org.uk/be-aware/faqs.php; http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids; http://www.who.int/gender/hiv_aids/en/; http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__women_and_hiv_aids/; http://hiv411.org/page.php?pID=30; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gia_Carangi; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_cleansing_myth