AIDS And Women

What Can Women Do To Prevent HIV Infection?

Since no vaccine for HIV is available, the only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that place a person at risk for infection, such as sharing needles and having unprotected sex.

Prevention is the key to personal protection against HIV and AIDS. Being aware of behaviors that increase the risk of infection and taking preventive measures can substantially reduce a person’s likelihood of becoming infected with HIV.

Prevention involves:

Safer Sex Practices

The CDC recommends complete sexual abstinence as a foolproof way to prevent sexually transmitted HIV. A monogamous sexual relationship between two uninfected individuals also limits the risk of HIV exposure through sex – as long as both partners are completely faithful and avoid nonsexual exposure to HIV, such as through injection drugs.

Safer sex practices should be followed during sexual contact with any partner, male or female, who is HIV-positive or whose sexual history is unknown. An individual who is infected with HIV is able to transmit the virus:

  • Even if he or she has no symptoms of the infection
  • Immediately after he or she has become infected

How To Information:

Safe sex practices involve creating a barrier between a person’s mucous membranes (or any cuts or breaks in the skin) and his or her partner’s blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. Such barriers include:

  • Condoms, with or without spermicide
  • Dental dams (squares of latex, originally used for dental work, now commonly recommended for safe oral sex)
  • Latex gloves

Most condoms are made from latex rubber. Using latex condoms, correctly and consistently, can greatly reduce a person’s chance of acquiring or transmitting HIV and most STDs. There is no scientific evidence demonstrating that spermicides (which are used for their contraceptive properties) offer protection against HIV infection.

Not all condoms are alike.

  • Lambskin condoms, which are porous and may allow HIV and other viruses to pass through them, are not recommended for protection against HIV and other STDs.
  • Polyurethane condoms, on the other hand, may provide an alternative for people who are allergic to latex.

The female condom, a thin sheath of polyurethane that is placed in the vagina, has recently been approved as a birth control method and is thought to offer protection against STDs as well. But it has not yet been proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Need To Know:

Experts caution that oil-based lubricants should never be used with latex condoms or the other latex barriers, as these may erode the material and destroy the barrier. Recommended “condom-compatible” lubricants are water-based, such as K-Y Jelly lubricant.

Sexual activities that do not involve contact with blood or other bodily fluids, such as hugging, “dry” or closed-mouth kissing, and use of non-shared sex toys, are considered safe.

Drug Use And Limiting HIV Exposure

People who use injection drugs risk exposure to HIV if they share needles and syringes with others. HIV in the blood residue from an infected person can be transmitted directly into the bloodstream of the next person using the injecting equipment.

Health authorities recommend that people who use illegal drugs seek treatment to help them stop. Those who cannot end their drug use are advised to avoid sharing drug injection equipment with others.

Programs that distribute clean needles to injecting drug users have helped to lower the incidence of HIV infection among these people.

Minimizing HIV Exposure From Medical Procedures

HIV has been transmitted through transfusions of contaminated blood and blood components. In the United States, several thousand surgical patients and others became HIV-infected through receiving contaminated blood, most of them early in the AIDS epidemic.

Since 1985, however, blood banks have added new safeguards to their procedures to ensure that donated blood does not present an HIV risk. These measures include various heat-treating techniques and screening donated blood for evidence of HIV. Blood from potential donors who are determined to have risk factors for HIV transmission is also discarded.

Today, the risk of acquiring HIV infection from blood transfusions is extremely small. People who are scheduling elective surgery can reduce the risk even further by banking some of their own blood before the surgery. This is known as autologous blood donation.

HIV transmission as a result of other medical procedures is rare, although accidental sticks with contaminated needles have occurred, mostly among healthcare workers.

Dentists, hygienists, and other healthcare professionals are required to wear protective latex gloves to avoid the transmission of viral infections such as HIV.


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