By Rachel Thompson, APRN
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is observed every year on March 10th. This day focuses on ways women can prevent and protect themselves and their partners by getting tested, using condoms, and talking with their healthcare provider about treatment options if you or your partner has HIV/AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010 there were 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS; women and adolescents made up one in four of those 1.1 million. Seventy-five percent of these cases were from women and adolescents having sex with men; the rest were caused from injection drug use.
Testing, What You Need to Know
Getting tested is the only way to know if you have HIV/AIDS. The CDC recommends that healthcare providers test everyone ages 13 to 64 at least once, as part of normal practice. This recommendation comes after discovering that one in six people in the United States have HIV and doesn’t know it.
There are certain behaviors that increase your risk of getting HIV/AIDS:
Had sex with someone who is HIV positive
Used drugs and/or shared drug equipment
Exchanged sex for drugs or money
Diagnosed with or treated for a sexually transmitted disease, tuberculosis, and/or hepatitis
Have been sexually assaulted
Are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant
If you could answer “yes” to any of the above statements, you should get tested yearly.
Getting tested is the only way to know that you have HIV/AIDS. Depending on when you could have been exposed, depends on when you should get tested. If you test too early, your body may not have built up enough antibodies to generate a positive test. According to the CDC, it takes your body three to eight weeks to make antibodies against HIV. So talk with your healthcare provider and she/he can tell you when is the best time to take a test. There are also testing kits that can be done at home and the materials in the test kit will tell you when to test.
If the test comes back negative and you think you might have been exposed, wait until after it has been three months and retest. The CDC reports the 97 percent of people will develop antibodies within the first three months of being infected; however, in some rare cases it can take up to six months.
What about the Gardasil Vaccine?
The Gardasil vaccine protects against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause genital warts and certain types of cancers such as cervical cancers, vaginal, vulva, anal, and some types of oropharyngeal cancers among women. A woman can contract HPV through skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse, anal sex, and oral sex.
The Gardasil vaccine does not protect against HIV/AIDS. While the vaccination doesn’t protect against all forms of cervical cancers, it does protect you from the most common strains (HPV 16 and 18) that cause most of the cervical cancers. The vaccine is given in three part series and is recommended for girls starting at the age of eleven.
Knowledge is Power
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV/AIDS you can find a testing site by going to the National HIV and STD Testing Resources webpage and entering your zip code, or you can text your zip code to KNOWIT (566948) and you will be sent a message back with the nearest testing site to you. Or check out a drugstore if you are interested in a home testing kit. You can also check out the Kentuckiana AIDS Alliance for a list of resources in our area.
Medical research has come a long way in discovering better ways to treat HIV/AIDS patients and the sooner you know, the sooner healthcare providers can help you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. March 7, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Testing. October 28, 2014
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV. September 25, 2014
Kentuckiana AIDS Alliance. Services. Accessed January 24, 2015.