Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
HIV Infection in
What are HIV and
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus
that destroys the immune system. The virus affects certain white blood cells,
called T4 helper cells, which help the body fight disease. Over many years, the
white blood cells are destroyed. The body then has a weaker defense against
infections such as lung infections, mouth infections and eye infections. Some
forms of cancer, such as lymphoma or cervical cancer, may also occur. When
infections and other problems occur, the person is said to have AIDS (acquired
How do women
become infected with HIV?
HIV is spread through contact with blood or
semen of a person infected with HIV. This can happen during sex. It can also
happen when needles are shared with a person infected with HIV. People who
inject drugs might get HIV if they share a needle with an infected person. In
the past, HIV was also spread through blood transfusion. Blood donations are now
tested for HIV, and HIV-infected blood is destroyed. HIV is not spread by
casual contact such as hugging, kissing, holding hands, sitting on toilet seats
or sharing clothing.
More than half of women who have HIV got the
infection from sexual partners. A woman can be infected by contact with a man or
contact with another woman. When a woman has sex with an infected man, she has a
high risk of getting HIV if a condom is not used properly. Ask your doctor for
instructions on proper use of condoms.
Who is at risk for
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, HIV
infection appeared to be confined to certain groups, including intravenous drug
users, men who have sex with other men and persons with hemophilia (a
blood-clotting disease that requires treatment with frequent blood
transfusions). People with hemophilia got HIV from receiving blood transfusions
with blood that contained HIV. Getting HIV from blood transfusions is no longer
a problem because there now are tests to screen blood for HIV
These days, HIV infection is much more
widespread. Here is a list of people who are at high risk of HIV
- Men who have sex with other men.
- Anyone who has multiple sex partners.
- Anyone who has sex with a prostitute.
- Anyone who shares needles using illegal injected
- Anyone who exchanges sex for drugs or money.
- Anyone who has a sexually transmitted disease.
- Anyone who has had or currently has a sexual
partner with any of the above risk factors.
Since most people who are
infected with HIV appear healthy, a blood test for the virus is necessary to see
who has the infection. People who have a positive blood test for HIV are called
HIV-positive. Ask your doctor how to obtain confidential testing for HIV. Your
doctor can help you understand what the test results mean.
The only 100% sure way to keep from getting the
AIDS virus is to not have sex at all or to have sex only with a partner who does
not have HIV infection. Avoiding contact with human blood and not sharing
needles are also important steps in avoiding HIV infection.
Is HIV infection
different in women and men?
HIV infection is somewhat similar in men and
women. For a long time after becoming infected, the person seems healthy. Over
many years, the person's immune system gradually becomes weaker until it is
unable to fight off other infections. In general, the types of infections that
people with HIV get and their treatments are the same in women and
The difference between men and women is that
HIV-infected women often have additional problems such as repeated vaginal yeast
infections, especially as the immune system becomes weaker. More serious
infections, such as PID (pelvic inflammatory disease--an infection of a woman's
internal reproductive organs), can be harder to treat because the body can't
help in fighting off infections as well. Diseases of the cervix, such as
precancer (dysplasia) and cancer, progress faster. They can be harder to treat
if a woman has HIV.
can be taken to avoid getting HIV during sex?
A male latex condom that is used properly is a
way to help prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. It also helps
to prevent a woman from giving HIV infection to her sexual partner. The male
latex condom also helps to protect a woman from other sexually transmitted
diseases, such as herpes, gonorrhea, genital warts and
The female condom (brand name:
Reality) also helps block the spread of HIV. Doctors suggest using a female
condom when a male condom can't be used. The diaphragm may not provide
protection against HIV. Injections of medroxyprogesterone acetate (brand name:
Depo-Provera) and contraceptive implants (brand name: Norplant) do not protect a
woman from getting HIV infection. They only protect her from getting pregnant.
Birth control pills also do not protect against HIV infection.
How do babies get HIV from their
Babies can get HIV infection from their mothers
during pregnancy, during the birth process and during
It is now possible to prevent many cases of HIV
in children by giving medicines to the pregnant mother and to her newborn baby.
This protection cannot be offered if a pregnant woman does not know she is
infected. Many people with HIV feel perfectly healthy at first. The only way to
know if you are infected is to have an HIV test. If you are pregnant, ask your
doctor for an HIV test as part of your prenatal care. Better yet, if you are
thinking about getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about HIV tests for you and
What should I do
if I think I may be infected?
If you think you may be infected with HIV,
contact your doctor immediately. Even though there is no cure for the disease,
early diagnosis and treatment with medicines can be started to slow the
progression of the disease. Your doctor will be able to give you more advice
about how to take care of yourself if tests show that you have