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The Cause of AIDS
Older Children
Women as Caregivers

Why women are so vulnerable to HIV/Aids











































































































































































Women and AIDS

During 1996, AIDS became the leading killer of men and the third leading killer of women between the ages of 25 and 44. It beat out cancer and heart disease. And the numbers of people living with the AIDS virus continue to go up. AIDS is a problem that will be with us for a long time to come. It will continue to kill people unless we take action to stop it.

Some people believe that AIDS is a problem in large cities and the towns near them. This is true. But AIDS is also found all across the country, in smaller cities and towns, as well as in rural counties. Every state in the U.S. is reporting cases of AIDS and the number of infections continues to rise.

Many of these new cases are women, especially women of childbearing age. Therefore, women must be able to take control of their lives to avoid infection with AIDS. People say: Knowledge is Power; what you know gives you the power to control your life. Learning the real facts about AIDS and the HIV (AIDS) virus lets you make decisions that can keep you AIDS-free.

The Cause of AIDS

The virus that causes AIDS is called H.I.V., which is short for Human Immune-deficiency Virus. This virus kills important blood cells that defend the body against all kinds of sickness. When a lot of these cells have been destroyed, the body cannot fight off infections. If the infections are strong, the person may die.

The virus, HIV, lives in blood. It is also found in body fluids that always contain blood cells: semen from men, vaginal and cervical fluids from women. So, if the person has the AIDS virus in their blood, then their semen or vaginal and cervical fluids will contain the AIDS virus also.

If the person is infected, the AIDS virus is in:


  • Blood (or anything with blood in it)

  • Semen from men

  • Vaginal or cervical fluids from women

To avoid catching the virus from an infected person, don’t let their blood, semen or vaginal/cervical fluids make contact with your body.

These infected fluids need to get into a person’s bloodstream to cause an infection. The infected fluids enter the body in two ways:


  1. If the person has an open cut in the skin, even a small one, like a hang nail, a paper cut, dry and cracked skin or an open pimple.


  2. If it lands on “naturally wet” skin, like

    • the mouth,

    • inside the nose,

    • the vagina,

    • the opening on the penis,

    • the rectum, or

    • the eyeball

The infected fluid seeps through this naturally wet skin very quickly and enters the blood directly.

Most cases of HIV infection happen because of sexual contact. Infected blood, semen or vaginal/cervical fluids land on moist, naturally wet skin, or on an open cut, and the infected fluids get into the person’s bloodstream. It is easier for a woman to pass or be infected with HIV when she has a vaginal infection, like yeast, chlamydia or herpes sores.

To prevent transmission, there must be a barrier that will keep the infected fluids away from the naturally wet skin called “mucosa.” Latex rubber, the kind that is used in condoms and in latex gloves, will stop the infected fluids from passing through it and into another person’s body. This is why health care workers routinely wear latex rubber gloves at work when there is a chance that blood, or some other fluid with blood in it, can get on their hands.

So, to prevent the spread of HIV infection, put a LATEX barrier between EVERYTHING in the left column and EVERYWHERE in the right column.





  • SEMEN: from men





  • BROKEN SKIN or cuts


    • Eye

    • Nose

    • Mouth

    • Penis opening

    • Vagina

    • Rectum

The rule is the same everywhere. It applies for any sexual contact and it also applies for the workplace, especially for health care. If your job puts you in contact with anything in the left column, you should always use the latex barrier to protect yourself from infection.

Barriers, like condoms (rubbers) and gloves should be made of latex rubber for the best protection. However, it is important to know that oil-based products like petroleum jelly and lotions cannot be used with latex rubber products because oil products will weaken the latex and cause the latex to break.

The AIDS virus can also be transmitted if someone shares an injection needle or any other skin piercing needle with an infected person. This includes tattooing needles and needles used for ear or other body piercing. If an infected person uses a needle to pierce their skin, there will be tiny amounts of blood left on the needle. If another person uses that same needle to pierce their skin, they will be pushing the infected blood from the infected person into their body. This can transmit the AIDS virus.

People need to know that sharing needles is very dangerous. A person who uses another individual’s needle can be getting an infection from them. It can be the AIDS virus or some other disease like Hepatitis (“yellow jaundice”). If someone uses needle drugs, they need to get off the drugs as quickly as possible. It’s not only the drugs that can kill them, it can be AIDS too.


The AIDS virus was discovered in 1984, three years after the first AIDS cases in the United States. In 1985, we got a test that could check the blood for traces of the virus, called “antibody.” This test is used to check the blood supply for AIDS infection. Today, all blood for transfusions is checked for AIDS virus antibody (as well as for many other diseases). There is essentially no chance that a

person could get an AIDS infection from bad blood. To be extra sure, some people who need an operation will donate their own blood and the hospital will keep it for them in case they should need a transfusion.

Some people worry about giving blood at a blood drive because they are afraid of getting AIDS. There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Whenever a person donates blood, a brand new, sterile needle and container are used. You can watch the nurse open the sealed packages for the needle and the container. There is absolutely no chance whatever of getting AIDS by donating blood.


What happens if a person gets infected with HIV, the AIDS virus?

At the beginning, usually nothing, although some people might have symptoms like the flu: slight fever, tiredness, achy muscles and joints.

After the infection has gone on for a while, usually several months or even several years, a person begins to see changes in their body. These changes can be:


  • a low-grade fever (lasting several weeks)

  • extreme tiredness

  • weight loss not the result of dieting

  • skin rashes

  • heavy sweating at night, waking up drenched

If a person has any of these symptoms, and they last for more than a week or two, the person should consult a doctor.

For women specifically, there may be a series of yeast infections that never seem to clear up, even with treatment. This, too, is a sign that the person should consult a doctor.

But remember: These symptoms are only signs that the body is dealing with something, and it might not be AIDS. People still get the flu and other diseases. So, consult a doctor.


AFSCME members very often work in places where they have contact with the general public. In places where there is a lot of AIDS, people can become nervous about being around other people who might be AIDS patients or who might be carrying the disease.

But, as we’ve learned earlier, the AIDS virus, HIV, lives only in blood or in body fluids that contain blood. There is no danger of catching the AIDS virus from being around people who may be infected — unless there is blood present. Therefore, even if a person with AIDS sneezes or coughs on you, there is no blood present and there is no chance of catching AIDS.

The same is true for co-workers who might have AIDS or be infected with HIV. Unless there is blood involved, there is no chance of passing on AIDS. Sharing a computer keyboard, using the same phone or copying machine, handling the same files or papers, using the same tools or equipment, traveling in the same vehicle or being in an enclosed elevator does NOT put someone in danger of catching AIDS. The same is true for using a drinking fountain or bathroom facilities: Unless there is transfer of blood, there is no chance to transfer AIDS.

In a situation where there might be blood or some other infectious fluids around, after the blood or other fluid is exposed to the air and dries out, the virus is usually destroyed. But, since some of the virus may still be alive, it is smart to use the protective gloves. Common cleaning materials, such as bleach and water, and ammonia cleansers will destroy and dissolve the AIDS virus within 30 seconds after contact. So in a health care or residential facility where personal body fluids might be around, using effective cleaning agents will dissolve the virus and wash it away.

A person who is cleaning personal body fluids should always wear latex or heavy rubber cleaning gloves to provide barrier protection.


Having good prenatal care is obviously very important for the health of the baby and also for the mother-to-be. This is especially true if the mother has an infection with HIV, the AIDS virus. If an infected woman is carrying a child, there is a chance that the baby can be infected also. This happens during the time that the baby is being born. The baby’s naturally wet skin in the eyes, nose and mouth gets exposed to infected blood from the mother. Without treatment, the baby has about a 35 percent chance of getting AIDS if the mother is infected with the AIDS virus.

If the mother takes a virus-reducing medicine, then the amount of virus in her blood will be reduced. When this happens, there is less chance that the baby will be infected. The chance can be as low as 8 percent. This is much better odds for the baby. The mother-to-be should start getting the medication at least three months before the baby is due. If a mother-to-be suspects that she may have been exposed to AIDS, she should talk to her doctor about it. For her own sake, as well as for the baby.

Older Children

Raising a child can bring a lot of joy but also a lot of worry for a parent. As children begin to get out on their own and develop their own relationships with other children and adults, there can be problems. Sometimes the influence of these other people is not what it should be and parents must be watchful to make sure that their children are kept from danger.

There are many temptations for young people, and sometimes they do not recognize when the temptation is a dangerous one. The most effective way to keep your child from dangerous temptations is to get to them before the temptation does.

Most parents worry about their children’s alcohol and drug use, smoking and sexuality. While most kids can stay on the right track, it takes only one bad influence to change their direction. And parents need to address these issues before the bad influence comes along. This is also true for AIDS.

Many parents hesitate to talk to their children about AIDS and HIV infection. They feel that they do not know enough factual information to speak knowledgeably. There are many resources available to parents to prepare themselves to do this. This booklet can be a starting point.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a toll-free information line that can answer questions and provide printed material for parents and children. Call: 1-800-432-AIDS. This is a free call. Other organizations, like your local Red Cross chapter, have good materials for both parents and children.

The time to talk with children is before the temptation comes along. A parent can tell how much information their child needs to know at a certain age, and the parent can provide that information. Doing this early will lay the groundwork for future discussion and information. Parents should begin talking with their children about AIDS and HIV before their teen years. After that, it may be too late.

Women as Caregivers

Many women are the caregivers for family members, friends and partners with AIDS. When caring for a loved one with AIDS, there are two important things to remember: AIDS can only be passed on through contact with blood or with body fluids that contain blood. And, a latex barrier prevents the AIDS virus from passing through it.

Remember also to take care of the caregiver, even if it’s you. Taking care of someone with AIDS can be very difficult at times, and the caregiver needs to have some personal time and also some support.

There are groups available to provide information and help for people who are caring for someone with AIDS.

You don’t need to do this alone.

Contact your local AIDS organization for assistance.


Why women are so vulnerable to HIV/Aids

November 30, 2004

No-one is immune to HIV. But this is not to say the peril is equal, for some people are at greater risk of getting infected by the Aids virus than others.

That inequality dominates World Aids Day tomorrow, which this year campaigns on a phenomenon that has stunned even hardened fighters in the Aids war: the rampaging advance of Aids and HIV among women and girls.

Of the 39.4 million people with Aids or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) around the world, 47% are female, an increase of six percentage points since 1997, according to new UN estimates.

In sub-Saharan Africa, by far the worst-hit region, 57% of cases are female.

In the 15-24 age group, more than three out of every four infections occur among women and girls.

Other regions are also seeing alarming increases among females, in a shift away from the male intravenous drug users or gays who previously comprised the vast majority of infections.

In Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Latin America more than a third of adults (up from 28% in two years) and 40% of young people living with HIV/Aids are women and girls.

One reason for this disturbing trend is that women may be physiologically more vulnerable to HIV than men.

Young teenage girls and women beyond the menopause have thinner layers of vaginal mucus than women who are in the plateau of their reproductive years, some studies suggest. The mucus acts as a lubricant in intercourse, protecting the vagina from abrasion, and it is also a partial immune barrier.
Less mucus means less of a protection against tiny cuts that help HIV to enter the bloodstream through infected semen.

Added to this is a host of social, legal and moral problems that beset women.

These can be nightmares to resolve, for they touch on sexual taboos, marital tradition, deep poverty and age-old gender roles.

Risks to women include these:

  • Infection by husbands: Men who get infected by prostitutes and then hand on the virus to their wives are one of the biggest transmitters in the global Aids crisis, especially in Asia.

    A Thai study shows how quickly this channel works. In 1992, 90% of new infections in Thailand occurred between sex workers and their clients; by 2002, 50% of new infections were occurring between spouses, as the current or former clients of prostitutes infected their wives.

    "For most women, the major risk factor for HIV infection is being married," is the acerbic comment of Aids specialists Elizabeth Reid and Michael Bailey, in a study published by the UN Development Programme.

  • Coercive sex and male violence: In many countries, particularly in Africa, women are expected to be submissive and cannot refuse intercourse or unprotected sex with their husband. Women who are assaulted in this way are likely to get little help from police or even the law.

  • Male myths and machismo: The superstition prevails in Africa and also parts of Asia that having sex with a virgin will rid a man of the Aids virus.

    African men are often loath to wear a condom, saying this will spoil their pleasure, and in some cultures, men prefer unlubricated "dry sex", a practice blamed for causing vaginal abrasions that heighten the infection risk.

  • Poverty, ignorance and discrimination: The deepest-rooted problems of all. Lack of resources, scant opportunities for work and poor self-esteem drive many young women into prostitution or a relationship with an older or wealthier man who may be infected.

    Ignorance about sexual health is another potential killer. In many poor countries where males are favoured, women suffer unequal access to education and medical care, which thus places them at risk.

    "Women are suffering multiple vulnerabilities," says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the UN Population Fund.

    "The social and economic empowerment of women is key. The epidemic won't be reversed unless governments provide the resources needed to ensure women's rights to sexual and reproductive health." - Sapa-AFP



 Asia Pacific News »
Female condom

India introduces female condoms to fight HIV AIDS
By Channel NewsAsia's India correspondent Atul Jolly

INDIA : Women in India can now better protect themselves against HIV AIDS, with the introduction of the female condom in the country.

Ahead of World Aids Day ondnesday, Channel NewsAsia's Atul Jolly explains how it may be the key to empower women, but many say it's too expensive.

Official statistics show that 80 percent of HIV virus infections in India are through heterosexual sexual relationships.

And women are four times more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases than men.

The newly-launched female condom now gives women more control.

And it's no wonder the manufacturers are thinking of calling it 'Rani' which means "Queen".

"The women have their product, their own way of protecting themselves against HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy. When we developed it, we wanted to make it a product that women could insert themselves, felt good and that was basically easy to use," said Mary Ann Leper, CEO of The Female Health Company.

The company distributed the product to sex workers for a three-month trial.

"I tried it and I told other women about it. Everybody liked it. We benefitted a lot from using it. We don't lose the customers so we don't lose money. Men usually don't want to use condoms, so now we have something to use to protect ourselves," said Shanta Jajani, a worker in the sex industry.

But many who tried it say, the only stumbling block is the price tag.

Imported from Britain, the condom retails at US$1, which is considered expensive by many in India.

"I have used this condom and I find it good. But I think it should be sold at 3 rupees (5 cents US)," said Vijaya, a housewife.

Renuka, another house agreed: "I'd pay 3 rupees (5 cents US) for it."

Manufacturers say the cost can be eventually cut with duty reductions and subsidies.

The company aims to distribute about one million free female condoms to sex workers across the country in the next year, since this high risk group seems to have benefited the most from the product. - CNA



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