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Understanding HIV and AIDS

HIV/ AIDS

HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that effects both men and women of all ages. It has an impact on many people's lives either by themselves being infected, knowing someone who is infected, or being a health care worker.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. It also effects the blood cells (lymphocytes) and cells of the organs (bone marrow, spleen, liver, and lymph glands). It effects the lungs, central nervous system and gastrointestinal system.

People begin with having the HIV virus. An HIV infected person is likely to stay fit and well for a long time. In time, however the infected person develops rare illnesses or cancers because their immune system is weakened. When this happens, the person now has AIDS. Some people live for several years once they have AIDS, but it is always fatal.

HIV is diagnosed with a blood test known as an HIV antibody test or HIV test. If the test shows that HIV is present, the person is referred to as HIV positive. It may take up to 6 months after contact to show up.

The number of women with HIV and AIDS in the United States is steadily rising. From 1985 to 1996, the proportion of reported US AIDS cases occurring among women increased from 7-20% (Women and AIDS). An analysis from the National Cancer Institute estimates that between 107,000 and 150,000 women on the U.S. are living with HIV infection (many of whom have not developed AIDS (Women and AIDS)

AIDS presents a great worry for women. It is the third leading cause of death among women ages 25 to 44 and the leading cause of death among African-American women of the same age group. (Women and AIDS)

Although AIDS cases are reported in all 50 states, the highest rates in 1996 were in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland and Delaware (Women and AIDS)

HIV may not produce any initial symptoms. However, as this disease progresses, symptoms begin to appear. Among them are: fatigue, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fever, diarrhea, recurrent respiratory and skin infections, swollen lymph glands throughout the body, genital changes, enlarged spleen and mouth sores. Vaginal yeast infections, common and easily treated in most women, are harder to treat in HIV infected women. Bacterial vaginosis and common STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia trichomoniasis, and pelvic inflammatory disease are more common and aggressive in HIV-infected women.

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