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What Are Symptoms Of HIV In Women?

HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system.
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Did you know that the first reported case of HIV in the Philippines happened in 1984? There have been over 77,000 reported cases since then. And in the earlier years, most of those who were diagnosed were female. But in 1991, there was a shift. Suddenly, there were more reported cases of HIV among men—and that's still true today.

IMPORTANT: How Do You Know If You Have A Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

The latest data from the Department of Health states that Metro Manila had the highest number of new cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV—a third of 2,818 cases, to be exact. This is based on a report from January to March 2020. Among those who were just diagnosed, 63 percent said it was due to male-to-male transmission; 22 percent, through males who've had sex with both men and women; and 13 percent, through sex between men and women. Of the women who were diagnosed, 35 percent found out they were HIV positive while they were pregnant.  

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Unfortunately, the numbers are only rising in the Philippines. And not enough people know about this sexually transmitted disease (STD). Read on to learn more about HIV, including the symptoms women display when they're infected. 

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HIV Symptoms in Women: intro to HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks your immune system. Your immune system is the number one defense for when you get sick; if it's damaged, it's harder for you to heal even if you get something as common as the flu. This happens because HIV kills an important cell in your immune system called CD4 cells or T cells, which protect you from infections. 

Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by bacteria or parasites and can be treated with antibiotics, once you have HIV, you have it for life. Untreated, it can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). To be clear, HIV and AIDS are not the same thing; not everyone who has HIV automatically has AIDS. HIV is the virus you can pass to another person. 

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a stock image of two hands opening a condom
Condom use can help prevent HIV transmission. Getty Images/iStockphot

HIV Symptoms in Women: in different stages

HIV develops in a person's body in three stages: acute infection stage, chronic infection stage (or clinical latency), and for some, AIDS. In the first few weeks after you're infected, you may show flu-like symptoms, which is why without regular testing, it can be hard to detect if you have HIV. These symptoms can include: 

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  • fever and random aches
  • chills
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • nausea
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • rashes
  • upset stomach

During this time, it's also super easy to spread the virus because of how much of it there is in your bloodstream. The symptoms only last for a few weeks and then you don't see them again until a few years later. So if you feel like you've been exposed to HIV, get tested right away. 

HIV enters the chronic infection stage after about a month, though it's completely possible to be asymptomatic. The virus is still active but people at this stage either don't show any symptoms, or have non-specific ones like: 

  • headaches
  • aches and pains
  • fevers
  • rashes
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • pneumonia
  • swollen lymph nodes

People can stay in this stage for 10 years or more, especially if they're taking medications to control the virus. As previously mentioned, HIV kills your CD4 cells, so by the end of this stage, people tend to show more symptoms. This is when people move into Stage 3 and develop AIDS. However, it's important to note that some people who take their medicine responsibly may never have AIDS. Signs of AIDS are:

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  • thrush 
  • increase in infections
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • rapid weight loss
  • sore throat
  • severe yeast infections
  • bruising, bumps, lesions
  • diarrhea
  • night sweats
  • shortness of breath
  • coughs
  • bleeding from the nose, mouth, vagina, or anus
  • skin rashes
  • purple growths on your skin or inside your mouth
  • losing control of your muscles
  • anxiety
  • depression

Without treatment, people with AIDS live for around three years

HIV Symptoms in Women: Is it actually different from men's?

For the most part, HIV symptoms are similar for men and women; the virus does not differentiate that way. But women may experience the symptoms in a different way. For example, noticing spots or rashes on their genitals may be harder for women, especially if they don't regularly check down there. 

According to Healthline, women are also at a higher risk of developing vaginal yeast infections, vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, human papillomavirus (HPV), and changes in their menstrual cycles. There's also the risk of passing the virus to a baby through breastfeeding or during pregnancy. 

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