Two-thirds of all new HIV cases in women in the U.S. are due to unprotected sex with an infected partner. Another leading cause is sharing needles that are infected for drug use. The worrying thing is, HIV symptoms can often be dismissed as they are mild, and an infected person can be passing the virus on to others, unaware of what they have contracted.
Anyone who thinks they might have been exposed to any STD, including HIV, should visit one of their local STD clinics to get tested. And there are also a number of symptoms to watch out for:
Symptoms in the Early Stages
After being infected with HIV, a lot of women during the early weeks may be asymptomatic. Others may suffer from flu-like symptoms that are mild, such as lack of energy, headache and fever, but these will often go away after a few weeks and can be dismissed as another type of virus.
Sometimes, it can take ten years for the most severe symptoms to start appearing, and during this time the virus can be transmitted to more people.
Skin Sores and Skin Rashes
Skin problems develop in 90 percent of people who are HIV-positive, with rashes being the most common one. Increased sensitivity to sunlight and irritants can occur when someone is suffering from HIV with rashes appearing as flat red patches with small bumps or flaky skin. Lesions or sores may form on the skin of the anus, genitals or mouth and can be difficult to treat. HIV-positive people are also more at risk of shingles and herpes but with the proper medication, the severity of these skin conditions can be lowered.
Lymph nodes can be found all over our bodies, including our groin, armpits, back of the head and neck. These lymph nodes are responsible for helping to fight infections as they filter harmful substances and store immune cells. When the HIV infection spreads, the immune system starts to work overtime and because of this, the lymph nodes become enlarged, creating swollen glands. This is often one of the first signs that someone is suffering from HIV and these swollen glands can last for many months.
Because the immune system is affected by HIV, it makes it harder for it to fight off viruses, germs and so on, which means opportunistic infections can take hold. These include hepatitis C, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Infections of the brain, digestive tract, kidneys, lungs, eyes and skin are also more likely in an HIV-positive person and treating common ailments also becomes more difficult.
Taking HIV medications and carrying out extra precautions, such as hand washing, can help to prevent some of the illnesses described from taking hold and leading to further complications.
Night Sweats and Fever
A low-grade fever may be experienced for long periods of time by people who are infected with HIV. Temperatures between 99.8˚F (37.6˚C) and 100.8˚F (38.2˚C) are what’s classed as a low-grade fever. Fevers are developed in our bodies when something’s wrong but what’s causing this isn’t always clear, and because this is a low-grade fever, those who aren’t aware that they’ve contracted HIV may just ignore this symptom. The fever can also be accompanied by night sweats which can interfere with sleep.
Reproductive health can be affected in women who have HIV, including the absence of periods or menstrual cycle changes. Yeast or bacterial infections may also be common and the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections increases. These include gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, chlamydia and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Women who are HIV-positive are also more prone to inflammatory diseases of the pelvis that can resist treatments.
HIV and AIDS – The Advanced Symptoms
Weight loss, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea in bouts are all common symptoms as HIV progresses. Other symptoms include muscle aches, joint pain, severe headache as well as difficulty swallowing, chronic cough and shortness of breath.
Further down the line, HIV can cause comas, mental confusion and short-term memory loss whilst the most advanced stage is called acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). When HIV reaches this stage, the immune system struggles to fight off infections. Furthermore, aggressive cancers that are difficult to treat are something female AIDS suffers are more at risk of.
The risk of HIV can be reduced by using condoms during sex and not sharing needles. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids so unless you’re certain your partner is HIV-negative, you should always use protection.
Joshua Morton is at medical school and is keen to enter a career in community sexual and reproductive health in the near future. He writes articles on these topics, and hopes that his writings will reach a wide online audience and help answer questions, raise awareness and alleviate any concerns.