Caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV is a condition that slowly destroys the immune system. Those infected by HIV are prone to numerous infections since the body is unable to fight them. HIV can be contracted through unprotected sex – vaginal, oral and anal -, through blood transfusions, infected needle sharing by drug addicts, and from pregnant women to their fetus through shared blood circulation or when nursing a baby after birth.
Symptoms of HIV in Women
For the first ten years, both men and women infected by HIV many display no symptoms. However, they can still infect others. It can take 3 months after being infected for HIV ELISA blood tests to change from positive to negative. Here we will see some of the symptoms of HIV in women and the care they must take – especially when pregnant – not to expose their children or partners to this devastating illness. According to ‘Avert’ an international charity for AIDS, as of 2008, there are more than 15 million women living with HIV/AIDS virus worldwide.
Some of the symptoms of HIV in women are different from men:
Vaginal infections: Women with HIV have chronic and repetitive reproductive organ or vaginal infections. These could be bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. Women with HIV are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases like Chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis. Such diseases cause heavy and painful periods, spotting between periods and changes in menstrual cycle. Such women must get medical attention. Doctors normally prescribe antibiotic or antifungal medication if the symptoms are painful and uncomfortable.
Yeast infection occurs anywhere in the body. The Candida albicans yeast causes vaginal yeast infection to which HIV positive women are prone. While one sign of vaginal yeast infection is HIV, it is not the only reason. Yeast infections of the vagina that do not respond to medication or keeps re-occurring frequently could be an early warning sign of HIV.
Fever or night sweats are some of the earliest symptoms of HIV in women. They suffer from low-grade fever that is constant accompanied with night sweats, chills and flushed skin. Headaches can be mild to severe and affect everyday activity. You must contact a doctor for the proper tests, for persistent fever can be a sign of other infections.
Skin Rashes: These early symptoms of HIV in women appear as red spots, dry patches or irritated skin all across the body. These lesions can flake and itch and are difficult to cure. These body rashes can be treated with medication but they can reappear in later stages of the illness.
Thrush: This again is caused by the Candida fungus and it attacks the mouth when the immune system is weak. It leads to lesions around the mouth and tongue and HIV patients are at risk of contracting thrush.
Swollen Lymph Glands: Lymph glands located at the groin, neck and armpits will become swollen and protrude in HIV-positive women. These are painless but will continue to grow for a few months.
Sore throat: Persistent sore throat in HIV positive women makes swallowing difficult. Such women will not be able to eat well. This leads to weight loss and exhaustion – two other signs of HIV in women.
Pelvic inflammatory disease: This causes inflammation of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. It is caused due to bacterial infections like Chlamydia and gonorrhea. The disease can spread, so women are advised to avoid intercourse when infected. One cause is the presence of the HIV virus.
Abnormal Pap test: This test is done as part of a routine pelvic exam for women. Abnormal results could be a sign of cervical cancer and the presence of the AIDS virus that affects the immune system.
Other symptoms of HIV in women include frequent and chronic diarrhea for a month or more, bruising easily and muscle stiffness.
Advanced symptoms result from a complete breakdown of the immune system and causes opportunistic infections in both women and men. Common opportunistic infections are tuberculosis, Pneumocystis pneumonia and toxoplasmosis. Other serious illnesses could be cervical cancer, pneumonia and other forms of cancer.
Treatment of HIV in Women
HIV treatment is given only after appropriate tests are done and the results are positive. There is no complete cure for HIV. However, medicines can help HIV patients live as normal a life as possible. These medications are called antiretroviral drugs and have been used to slow down the pace of the virus replicating in the body. Intensive research has led to the introduction of newer medications like nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors, nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, fusion inhibitors, CCR5 antagonists and such. A person diagnosed with HIV can initially become depressed and such people can seek help from a psychiatrist.
Precaution and Prevention of HIV in women
There is no vaccine that prevents HIV since is continually changing and mutating. The best way to prevent getting infected is to adopt certain precautionary measures. These include using condoms and not indulging in unprotected sex and not using shared needles. All hospitals screen blood for HIV virus and hence the chances of getting the infection through blood transfusion has reduced. Anyone who thinks that they have been exposed to the virus must get blood tests done. The sooner treatment is started, the better the chances of managing the disease. Healthcare workers will give precautionary tips that you can follow.
Since pregnant women at risk of HIV can pass the disease to their unborn fetus, they must be screened very carefully. With proper treatment, the risk of the fetus getting infected is reduced to less than 1 in 100. It is important to detect signs of HIV early – even before pregnancy or in its early stages. This is when the right medication can be taken by the mother to prevent infection of the fetus. A Caesarean section is also a good way to reduce the risk of the baby developing HIV. HIV positive women need to feed their babies formula milk for there are chances the infant can get infected through infected breast milk.