March 10th is National Women & Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, says Marla Ahlgrimm, a women’s health advocate and retired HRT specialist from Madison, Wisconsin. Ahlgrimm recently sat down to address a few common questions about HIV and AIDS.
Q: Who faces the most risk of contracting HIV?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Anyone can be exposed to HIV but it is especially prevalent among highly sexually active men and women, those who have intercourse with both sexes, and those who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners or one who has the virus. People who use IV drugs are also at a more elevated risk than the general population.
Q: Do women who only have sex with men need to take precautions against HIV?
Marla Ahlgrimm: All sexually active men and women should use condoms to guard against STDs and STIs. However, women should keep in mind that they are more likely to pick up an HIV infection than their male counterparts. Women who have untreated existing STDs, yeast infection, or bacterial vaginosis may contract the virus easier since white blood cells are already present at the site of exposure.
Q: Why are younger women/teenage girls at a higher risk of HIV?
Marla Ahlgrimm: There are a number of factors working against the 25 and under crowd. The number one issue is lack of protection – a study in 2013 found that only half of all sexually active high school girls used a condom during their last sexual encounter. Additionally, young women’s reproductive tracts are still developing, making them more susceptible to an infection.
Q: What group is the most affected by HIV/AIDS?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Despite only accounting for 14% of the total population, Hispanic and African American women made up 61% of new HIV infections in 2015. Sadly, it is the fear of stigma, lack of education, and poor access to healthcare that puts these women at the highest risk.