HIV and AIDS

HIV/AIDS is on the rise among women both in Canada and around the world. HIV/AIDS was once considered a disease that affects mainly men who engage in sexual activity with other men. But, the face of AIDS is changing. Intravenous drug users, and heterosexuals run the same risks of contracting HIV/AIDS as anyone else, if they are not careful.

The percentage of reported AIDS cases in Canada among women has steadily increased over the years. Before 1995 only 6.4% of reported cases were women, in 2000 that number almost doubled to 12%, and in 2003 it had more than doubled to 25.2%. This rise in reported HIV/AIDS cases affects women in Canada primarily between the ages of 15 and 49. It is estimated that 36% of new infections in Canada are women, with Newfoundland having the highest male to female ratio of infections; for every three men in Newfoundland that are positive there is one woman who is positive, in Ontario this ratio is 17 to 1.

The main causes of infection of HIV/ AIDS are unsafe sex, and intravenous drug use. Most reported cases are as a result of unprotected sex with an infected partner, though more than one third of cases are contributed to intravenous drug use.

Many women who are intravenous may be sex workers, and don’t always use protection with clients when they are working, or may engage in certain activities that can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS infection.

Many women between the ages of 15 and 49 may also have multiple partners in their lifetime, one of whom was (or is) positive. There are an estimated 20,000 Canadians who are positive and do not know it, even with proper screening for HIV/AIDS, it can take between three and six months sometimes for HIV antibodies to develop into detectable antibodies in the bloodstream.

There are many ways for women to protect themselves against becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS:

Always practice safe sex, condom use is the easiest way to protect from infection and pregnancy. Birth control methods such as the pill do not protect against AIDS, or any other STI’s.

If you are an intravenous drug user, do not reuse or share needles with anyone at any time.

Get tested, if you have had unprotected sex, or have shared needles, get tested, within three to six months after occurrence to be sure.

If you are considering having unprotected sex with a longtime partner, get them to get tested, many people are infected and don’t even know it.
To get more information on protecting yourself, contact you local AIDS committee, or visit your family doctor.

Carla Haynes

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