Women and HIV/AIDS

December 1 is World AIDS Day and the Institute for Woman’s Health Research in Chicago is focusing this blog on HIV/AIDS in Women.  There is also a link to a comprehensive update at the end of this page.

Both women and men need similar types of HIV care, but there are some important differences:

  • Women often have gynecological conditions as a result of HIV infection. These can include persistent and difficult-to-treat vaginal yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell changes in the cervix), and an increased likelihood of developing cervical cancer.
  • Women may have concerns about pregnancy and childbirth—whether for a current pregnancy or for the future. It is best to talk with your provider about these concerns.
  • Women who are diagnosed with HIV should have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam ASAP. They should have a follow-up Pap smear 6 months later.
  • Women are less likely to develop Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a type of cancer that is a common opportunistic infection and an AIDS-defining condition.
  • Women are often diagnosed later in the stages of HIV infection, so they can be more susceptible to opportunistic infections.
  • Women often must be stronger advocates for themselves and their treatment when engaged in HIV care. Many times women face multiple barriers to care.

Frequently Asked Questions
If I am diagnosed with HIV, can I still get pregnant?
Yes. Being diagnosed with HIV shouldn’t prevent you from getting pregnant. You can take medications that will help to prevent your baby from getting HIV from you. For more information, see Having Children.

I thought HIV was something that only affected gay men. I’m a straight woman. Am I at risk for HIV?
If you are sexually active or inject drugs (or have sex with someone who does), you are at risk for HIV. Many women are unaware of their partner’s current or past sexual or drug-taking behaviors. It is possible for a man to become infected with HIV by injecting drugs or by having sex with an HIV-positive woman and then transmitting the virus to a different female partner. In addition, many men who have sex with men (MSM) don’t consider themselves “gay” or bisexual, and they may also have sexual relationships with women. It’s important to ask your partner if he has had sexual contact with other men or ever used injection drugs—and for BOTH of you to be tested for HIV before you have sex without a condom. If you have any doubts about your partner’s HIV status, or his sexual or drug-taking behaviors, insist on consistent condom use every time you have sex.

For more information on women and HIV/AIDS from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office On Women’s Health, click HERE.