AIDS Awareness Month: Know your status. Lower your risk.

In recent years, the number of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in women has declined.  

Between 2005 and 2014, HIV diagnoses among all women declined 40%. But women, especially women of color, are still at risk for HIV infection.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): 

  • Women made up 19% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2015. 
  • Among all women with HIV diagnosed in 2015, 61% were African American, 19% were white, and 15% were Hispanic/Latina.
  • Women accounted for 24% of AIDS diagnoses in 2015. 
  • Women represent 20% of the 1,216,917 cumulative U.S. AIDS diagnoses from the beginning of the epidemic through the end of 2015. 

How are women being infected with HIV? 

  • Overall, 86% of HIV diagnoses among women were attributed to heterosexual sex, and 13% were attributed to injection drug use. 
  • Among white women, 32% of HIV diagnoses were attributed to injection drug use. 
  • Some women are unaware of their male partner’s HIV status or risky behaviors and do not use condoms.
  • Without condoms or preventative drugs, women have a higher risk for getting HIV during vaginal sex than men do. 
  • The riskiest behavior is receptive anal sex. Women may believe anal sex has a lower risk of pregnancy, so they don’t use condoms. 

How can I lower my risk of HIV infection? 

Today, we have more knowledge and more options for preventing HIV transmission. 

  • Learn about PrEP – If you are HIV negative, you can use HIV medications known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to protect yourself.  
  • Limit your number of sexual partners – Limiting your exposure to HIV or other STDs limits your risk of HIV infection. 
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors – Having anal or vaginal sex without a condom or without taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV is high risk. There is a very low risk of getting or transmitting HIV from oral sex.  
  • Use condoms – When used consistently and correctly, male and female condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. When worn in the vagina, female condoms are as effective as male condoms Some people also use female condoms for anal sex. 
  • Get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – Those with STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis or chlamydia are more likely to have HIV infections.
  • Abstinence – Sexually speaking, abstinence is 100 percent effective. However, even those who are committed to abstinence should be aware of preventative measures, including PrEP and PEP, and how to get tested for HIV and other STDs. 

If you are HIV positive, taking your antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications as prescribed, every day, is the most important thing you can do to stay healthy and prevent HIV transmission to your partner(s).  

Should I get tested? 

Everyone, man or woman, age 13 and up should get tested for HIV to establish their status. If you engage in risky behavior after a negative test, get tested again. People at higher risk should be tested on a regular basis.   

A woman should be tested for HIV if she answers “yes” to any of these questions developed by the CDC:  

  • Have you had sex—anal or vaginal—with an HIV-positive partner? 
  • Have you had more than one sex partner since your last negative HIV test? 
  • Have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others? 
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money? 
  • Have you been diagnosed with, or sought treatment for, another sexually transmitted disease? 
  • Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)? 
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer “yes” to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know? 

If you are pregnant, get tested. HIV treatment early in pregnancy dramatically lowers the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby. 

If you are not sure of your status, get tested. Early diagnosis and treatment help HIV patients live much longer and in better health than ever before. 

If you have questions about your HIV status or your risk factors, talk to your urogynecologist at the Coyle Institute. We are here for the whole health of every woman. The more you know, the safer and healthier you and your sexual partner or partners can be for a longer, happier life. 

Contact us today to set up your appointment.