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You can have HIV and still feel perfectly healthy. The only way to know for sure whether you are infected is to get tested. Knowing your HIV status is one way you can help prevent the spread of HIV. Learn more from the National HIV and STD Testing Resources website ( English ) ( Spanish ).


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.

Today, women account for about 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. HIV infection rates are going up among Latinos. In fact, Latinas are four times more likely to have HIV/AIDS than non-Hispanic white women. Most of these women got HIV from having unprotected sex with a man. Some reasons for the high HIV rates among Latinas include:

  • Cultural factors — It may be hard for Latinas to talk about "safe sex" and even harder to convince a partner to use condoms. Latinas may be unaware of their partner's risk factors, such as having unprotected sex with men. Latinos also may not get tested or treated for HIV because of shame or fear of rejection.
  • 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. The rates of STIs are high among Latinos.
  • Poverty — Living in poverty is strongly linked to HIV risk. People living in poverty also get lower-quality health care in general, which can mean advancing from HIV infection to AIDS more quickly.

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.

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More information on HIV/AIDS

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Mujeres y el VIH/SIDA - Si usted tiene el VIH, vive con alguien que tiene esta enfermedad, cuida a un amigo, hijo u otro miembro de su familia infectado con el VIH entonces necesitará información fiable que le ayudara a cada paso. Esta sección le proveerá la información que usted busca.
  • Women and HIV/AIDS - This section of womenshealth.gov provides women with resources and information to get help with HIV/AIDS. It provides information on prevention, testing, living with the disease, opportunistic infections, medical care, pregnancy, and more.

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Content last updated: July 16, 2012.

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