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Women and HIV: Get the Facts on HIV Testing, Prevention, and Treatment

From the FDA Office of Women’s Health

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Every year, thousands of women are infected with HIV. Learn the facts. Teach the women in your family and community how to prevent and treat HIV.

HIV quick facts

What is HIV?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. A person with HIV is called HIV positive (HIV+).

HIV makes it hard for your body to fight off sickness. There are cells in your blood called 'CD4 cells' or 'T cells'. These cells help protect your body from disease. HIV kills these cells.

How do you get HIV?

HIV is spread through body fluids like blood, semen, or breast milk.

You can get HIV when you:

  • Have sex with a person who is HIV+ and do not use a condom. Most women get HIV from having unprotected sex with a man. You cannot tell who has HIV just by looking at them. Always use a condom every time you have sex.
  • Share needles or syringes (drug works) with someone who has HIV
  • Get blood from a person who has HIV. Now all donated blood is tested for HIV. You can’t get HIV from giving blood. 

You can’t get HIV from:

  • Shaking hands
  • Kissing
  • Sharing household items like forks or glasses with someone who has HIV

HIV testing - know your status

How do you know if someone has HIV?

The only way to know for sure is to get an HIV test.

  • You cannot tell who has HIV just by looking at them. Most people do not show any outward signs when they first get HIV.
  • A person can spread HIV even if he or she does not look sick.
  • Knowing your HIV status gives you the information you need to help you stay healthy.

How do you get tested for HIV?

There are three basic types of HIV tests:

  • Blood – A small amount of blood is taken from your finger or arm.
  • Oral – Fluid is taken from the inside of your mouth
  • Urine – A small cup of urine is used.

Some HIV tests take 1-2 weeks to get results from a lab. Other tests called “rapid HIV tests” can give results in about 20 minutes.

You can get tested at places like a doctor’s office, mobile health van, or health fair. There are also home HIV tests that let you test yourself.

To find a testing site near you:

What is the “window period”?

It may take a few weeks or months for HIV to show up on a test. This time is called the “window period.”

  • A person who was just infected with HIV may not test positive even though they have the virus.
  • A person can give the virus to others during the window period.

HIV treatment

Is there a cure for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV. There are medicines that people with HIV can take to help them live well and stop the virus from building up in their body.

  • Some people take 1 pill each day. Other people take 3 or more drugs every day.
  • Over time, you can get very sick if you do not take your HIV medicines.
  • People with HIV should not stop taking their medicines without first talking to a doctor.
  • Clinical trials can help researchers find a cure and improve HIV treatments. Visit the Women in Clinical Trials webpage to learn more about how you can participate.
  • Some people who are at high risk of getting HIV can take medicine to lower their chance of getting the virus. PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) is the name used when people take HIV medicines to lower their chance of getting infected.

It can be hard to manage your health and your HIV treatment. If you feel sad or stressed often, talk to your HIV counselor or healthcare provider about depression.

What should you know if you are pregnant or want to get pregnant?

A woman can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, labor or delivery. A woman can also pass HIV to her baby during breastfeeding.

  • Women with HIV should talk to their doctor before they get pregnant.
  • Women with HIV can take medicine to lower the chance of giving her baby HIV.
  • Some HIV medicines should not be taken during pregnancy because they can cause birth defects. Ask your health care provider if you will need to change your medicines.
  • There are pregnancy registry studies that track women with HIV who take HIV medicines during pregnancy.

HIV prevention

The most common way to get HIV is by not using a condom when you have sex with a person who has HIV. You can take steps to help protect yourself from getting HIV through sex.


Male condom

Latex condoms, the most common type, may help prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “Natural” or “lambskin” condoms help prevent pregnancy, but may not provide protection against STIs, including HIV. The male latex condom must be used consistently and correctly to help reduce HIV risk. The male condom cannot provide complete protection against HIV or other STIs.

Female condom

When used in the vagina, the female condom reduces the risk of HIV and other STIs. The female condom cannot provide complete protection against HIV or other STIs.

Medicine to reduce HIV risk 

What is PrEP?

PrEP is short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is for adults who do not have HIV but are at high risk of becoming infected. As a part of PrEP, you can take a medicine every day to reduce the risk of getting the HIV virus through sex. Ask a health care provider whether PrEP is right for you.

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