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If you are a woman, you have a 1 in 139 chance of being diagnosed with HIV. Although some people think only men who have sex with other men get HIV or AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that in the U.S. almost one-fourth of all people diagnosed with HIV are women.
Here are some things all women should know about HIV.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS. Having HIV is known as being HIV positive (HIV+). Being HIV+ is not the same as having AIDS.
The HIV virus attacks special cells in the immune system called T cells. T cells help protect the body from disease. When HIV damages T cells, the immune system cannot work as well and the body is susceptible to getting other diseases. HIV can turn to AIDS when the immune system is very weak.
How do women get HIV?
The most common way HIV is shared is by having sex. Any woman who has sex with anyone else could get HIV.
• Vaginal sex - Women are at higher risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex than men are. If a woman has sex with an HIV+ man, his semen can stay in her vagina for several days, which gives her longer exposure. Men are only exposed to a woman’s fluids during the sex act. In addition, the vagina has a larger surface than the penis which gives the virus more opportunity for contact.
• Anal sex – Women are at even higher risk of getting AIDS if they have unprotected anal sex than they are from unprotected vaginal sex.
• Sex with women – Although it is less likely, it is possible for a woman to be infected with HIV during sex with another woman. This may be due to vaginal or menstrual fluids coming in contact with soft tissues such as those in the mouth.
• STIs – Having an untreated sexually transmitted infection can make it easier for a woman to be infected with HIV during sex. The virus can enter the woman’s body through tiny tears in the vagina that she does not know are there.