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Five questions answered by an infectious disease provider

On March 10 – and all month long – there is a nationwide push to spark conversations among women and girls about HIV. As the country observes National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, make sure you know the facts.

Dr. Carol Encarnacion, an infectious disease provider working in Meadville, Pennsylvania, cares for HIV patients in the community. She also works with Clarion University-Northwest Alliance, one of the Take Control HIV partner organizations.

Here are Dr. Encarnacion’s answers to common questions regarding women and HIV.

Q: Are women at risk for HIV infection?

     Dr. Encarnacion: Yes, women can be at risk of getting HIV-infected.

Q: How is HIV spread to women?

Dr. Encarnacion: Sexual contact, intravenous drug use via sharing needles/syringes, needles sticks, mucous membrane exposure to blood /blood splashes, human bites, blood transfusions.

Q: What are HIV symptoms in women?

Dr. Encarnacion: One study shows that during acute infection, individuals may be asymptomatic (10-60%) but some have nonspecific symptoms (29%). Usual symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches/flu-like symptoms, sore throat, rash, nausea, diarrhea, headache, and dry cough.

Q: Can women protect themselves from HIV?

Dr. Encarnacion: Yes, women can protect themselves from HIV. There are protective barriers like condoms, and risk reduction through fewer partners or less casual contact; and, pre-exposure or post-exposure prophylaxis, like anti-HIV medications.

Q: Is there a cure for HIV in women?

Dr. Encarnacion: There are treatments for HIV to chronically suppress the infection or virus and a complete cure has been reported. The cure which is the total elimination of the virus has been much awaited and the novel stem cell treatments are very promising. 

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