HIV, Human Immuno Deficiency Virus. Most of you would be aware of what it is and how it spreads, but, did you know there are some symptoms in women they experience differently than men do? As per statistics, till 2019, around 3.8 crore people are living with HIV and around 3.3 crore died with HIV. That’s quite a big number. Playing safe and knowing about the symptoms can help a person not contract the deadly infection and if infected, helps stay healthy and longer with right medical treatment.
Symptoms of HIV in women
After getting infected with HIV, in most of the cases, there won’t be any symptoms seen in people for a period of about 2 weeks. This is the time when the virus rapidly multiplies in the body and grows in number exponentially. Viruses behave and multiply differently than bacteria. Viruses do not have a mechanism where it can multiply on their own. They use host’s body cells to make copies of themselves after entering it and the host cell is destroyed. During this period, flu like symptoms may be seen in people that may include:
- Fatigue – a feeling of tiredness.
- Coughing and Sneezing (sometimes with a running nose).
These symptoms last for anywhere between 2 weeks to a month and then subside. As these symptoms similar to that of common cold, many people tend to ignore them or just take over the counter medicines (medicines that are available in the drug store without prescription).
Specifically, women may see the following symptoms of HIV:
- Swollen lymph nodes – This happens in all genders but may be seen a little sooner in women. After initial exponential multiplication, the rate at which the virus replicates at a slower pace. Any or all of the lymph nodes present under the jaw, behind the ears, under arms and in the groin may show some swelling.
- Recurring Vaginal Yeast Infection – Every woman gets vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life and that is common and treatable with antibiotics. But in a women with HIV, her body would be busy fighting HIV and may not be equipped to fight off other infections. This results in recurrence of vaginal yeast infection. This can lead to burning sensation in and around the vagina, pain during sex (Dyspareunia), pain and/or burning sensation when urinating, unusual think and stinky vaginal discharge.
- Rapid weight loss – Losing more than 10% of body weight within a very short period of time. This is typically seen in many individuals infected with HIV. This happens due to nausea, diarrhoea, inability to absorb consumed food and loss of appetite.
- Mood Swings – Mood swings in women at around their menstrual time is quite common. When HIV takes over the body that sets in some neurological disorders which can result in depression, hopelessness, memory loss etc.
- Development of Rashes or sores on the skin – Red, pink or purple soars or rashes are commonly seen near the mouth, genitals of women infected with HIV.
- Changes in menstruation – Women may experience altered levels of blood loss during periods. Some may see lighter periods and some may see heavy periods. Some may even miss their periods. HIV causes changes in hormone balance in the body which can cause abdominal cramps, tenderness of breasts etc.
When should you see a doctor if you think you may have got infected with HIV?
You should see doctor as soon as possible if
- You shared needles with other people while abusing drugs.
- You have had penetrative sex or even oral sex with someone whose medical history is unknown.
- If you have had penetrative sex with multiple partners.
If you get to your doctor within 72 hours of your risky behaviour, your doctor may be able to save you from contracting HIV with a treatment called ‘Post Exposure Prophylaxis’. You will be administered with anti viral drugs which will suppress the multiplication of virus and allow your body to attack and clear the virus from your body.
If not, you should see your doctor as soon as you see the above mentioned symptoms and if you have involved in risky behaviour in the past 2 weeks or so.
Diagnosis of HIV
As soon as you present yourself to a doctor with possibility of infection after your risky episodes, the doctor may enquire about your activities in the past, how active you are sexually etc. Depending on his/her inference, you may be advised to get tested not just for HIV but also for other sexually transmitted infections. This is a standard procedure which will help save you from other infections as well. Depending on when (how long after possible exposure) you present yourself to your doctor, the tests (and their costs) differ. Different types of HIV tests are:
- Antibody test – This test looks for the presence of antibodies released by the body to neutralize the HIV. Release of antibodies by the body takes a good amount of time after infection.
- Antigen / Antibody test – this test looks for the presence of antigens in the body. This test too has to be done after few weeks post exposure.
- Nucleic Acid Tests / RT PCR Test – This test looks for the presence of HIV directly in the blood and can be ordered even on the next day after exposure. Relatively expensive but you can be sure about the infection.
Treatment of HIV after a positive test report
After testing positive for HIV, what you need is ‘courage’ to admit that you are infected and ‘trust’ your doctor that with the medication given, you can still lead a healthy life just like everybody. You will be given Anti Retro Viral medicines, that can control the replication of the virus. They bring the replication to near stop status but don’t get rid of the virus from your body. Virus will still remain passive in your body.
All you need to remember at this time is:
- You will have to continue medicines for your life.
- You should not spread the infections to any healthy individuals.
- If you are a mother, it is possible to prevent your baby from getting infected, provided you take your medicines as prescribed.
- Once your baby is born and lactating stage – you will receive further advice from your doctor on what you can and cannot do.