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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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In order to become infected, a person must get a sufficient amount of HIV into their bloodstream. HIV/AIDS is spread though semen, vaginal fluids, menstrual fluids and breast milk. HIV/AIDS is not spread though saliva, sweat glands or urine.
A woman can become infected if she has unprotected penetrative sex vaginal or anal, with a man who has HIV. A woman having vaginal sex with a man who has HIV is 2-3 times more likely to become infected than a man would be if he had vaginal sex with an infected woman (HIV and AIDS).
AIDS is also spread though sharing contaminated needles for IV drug use, transfusions of blood or blood products from a person with AIDS and children born to an infected mother.
Many women in the U.S. have poor access to health care. In addition, women may not perceive themselves to be at risk for HIV infection. Because of this, symptoms that serve as a warning sign of HIV infection may go unheeded (Women and AIDS). Early diagnosis of HIV infection allows women to take full advantage of drug therapies for opportunistic infections, which can forestall the development of AIDS related symptoms and prolong life in HIV-infected people. (Women and AIDS)
There are different theories as to the origin of AIDS. AIDS was identified as a new disease in 1981 (Sowadsky). HIV is believed to have originated in Africa sometime between the late 1940s and the early 1950s from the monkey AIDS virus SIV, (Simian Immudificiency virus) (Sowadsky). The two viruses are very similar and are transmitted the same way. However HIV only causes AIDS in humans, and SIV only causes AIDS in monkeys. The SIV virus is found in blood. HIV must have entered humans via monkey blood. This could've happened by humans drinking monkey blood, eating raw monkeys or another direct exposure of monkey blood into humans (Sowadsky).
There are some theories that AIDS is a man-made virus created by the government. According to my references, there is no evidence of this. This issue, however, will probably never be resolved.
Many women are living with the HIV virus. As well as coping with their own virus, they are also trying to take care of family responsibilities. They may also have financial and treatment concerns, as well as a concern whether to have children.
Many women have great concerns whether to have children and the risk of their children of becoming infected. The chance of the virus being transmitted from mother to baby is about one in seven. Most perinatal transmission occurs late in pregnancy or during birth. Some scientists believe HIV may be transmitted when maternal blood enters the fetal circulation or by mucosal exposure to the virus during labor and delivery (Women and AIDS). Other factors that may increase the risk of perinatal transmission are maternal drug use, severe inflammation of fetal membranes, or a prolonged period between membrane rupture and delivery (Women and AIDS).
There are many things that we can do to try to prevent the spread of AIDS. We can avoid sexual contact with infected people and known IV drug users. Condoms should always be used. Avoiding unscreened blood product and un-steralized IV drug needles can also reduce the risk.
"HIV and AIDS: Information for Women." International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. 21 March 1999.
"Women and HIV" Health Square. 21 March 1999.
Sowadsky, Rick . "The Origin of the AIDS Virus" The Body: An AIDS and HIV Information Resource. 21 March 1999.