HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens your body's defense system, which makes it hard for your body to fight off other health problems that it could normally resist. As time goes on, your body becomes less able to fight off diseases.
AIDS cases have stayed the same among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Most Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander women with HIV got it from having unprotected sex with a man. Certain factors can make it hard for some women to protect themselves from HIV. They include:
Cultural factors — It may be hard for women from some cultures to talk about "safe sex" and even harder to convince a partner to use condoms.
Low HIV testing rates — Many Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have never been tested for HIV.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — HIV is most commonly spread to women through sexual contact. Untreated STIs that break the skin, such as genital herpes, give HIV easy access into the bloodstream.
All people should know their HIV status. The only sure way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. That's because you can have HIV and still feel healthy. Once you know your status, you can take steps to protect yourself and stop the spread of HIV:
Use latex condoms every time you have any kind of sex (vaginal, oral, or anal).
If you inject drugs and cannot or will not stop, do not share needles, syringes, or other items used to prepare drugs. Always use new, sterile syringes and needles. If you cannot get new ones, clean used ones with full-strength household bleach after each use. After unprotected sex, injection drug use is the next most common way that HIV is spread.
Be faithful. Only have sex with an uninfected partner who only has sex with you.
Another way HIV is spread is from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. Because many people who are infected with HIV don't know they have it, all newly pregnant women should be tested for HIV as early in the pregnancy as possible, even if they are at low risk. With early prenatal care and treatment, many babies of HIV-positive mothers do not get HIV.