In observation of National HIV Testing Day (on the 27th), we wanted to write about the signs of HIV and prevention. We’ll also be covering methods of contraception in this post. If you’re interested in learning more about contraception and HIV/AIDS, contact your OBGYN!
Signs and Prevention of HIV/AIDS
HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, makes it more difficult for your body to fight illness. It can also lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a potentially life-threatening chronic illness.
HIV is an infection that may present no symptoms in the early stages. Sometimes it presents as a flu-like illness, usually about two to six weeks after the initial infection.
The only way to really know if you have HIV is to be tested.
The early signs of HIV usually go away between a week to a month. They can be mistaken for symptoms of another illness, but during this period the illness is much more infectious than otherwise.
These signs of HIV include:
- Sore Throat
- Swollen Lymph Glands
It can take up to 10 years or more for the more severe symptoms to appear. While the virus gets worse, you may develop the following symptoms:
- Swollen Lymph Nodes
- Weight Loss
- Cough / Shortness of Breath
Late Stage Signs of HIV
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue
- Night sweats
- Shaking Chills / Fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Persistent Headaches
- Swelling of Lymph Nodes for more than three months
- Unusual Infections
HIV/AIDS is spread through contact with specific fluids (Blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, vaginal fluids, breast milk and rectal fluids). You can’t get HIV from contact with objects like doorknobs, toilets or dishes that have been used by someone with HIV/AIDS. You also cannot get HIV/AIDS from casual contact with someone who has HIV (handshakes, hugs, closed-mouth kisses, etc.).
Reducing Risk of HIV
- Get tested: Testing is important to understand your current status and preventing spreading HIV, yourself. You can use gettested.cdc.gov to find a place to get yourself tested.
- Know your partner’s status: This is one of the most important steps to take. Knowing your partner’s HIV status will help you prepare for your sexual encounter accordingly in order to prevent your chances of being infected.
- Limit the amount of sexual partners you have: The less partners you have, the easier the logistics are of preventing HIV transmission.
- Use condoms: Condoms, when properly used, are one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV transmission, short of abstinence.
- Don’t inject drugs: If you do, however, always use sterile water and equipment and never share your equipment with other people.
- Get tested and treated for other STDs: Other STDs can increase your risk of being infected with HIV.
- Talk to your health-care provider about getting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): PrEP is a prevention option for people who are at high risk of infection with HIV but don’t have it yet. It does involve taking a specific HIV medication every day, however.
Methods of Contraception
Contraceptives have absolutely exploded in number within the last 50 years. There are different methods by which they work, such as barrier (condoms or cervical caps), hormones (The Birth Control Pill), Intrauterine devices (IUD) and sterilization. It’s worth noting that most of these methods of contraception only cover prevention of pregnancy. Condoms are most effective at preventing the spread of STDs like HIV.
All this said, there are four ways most contraceptives work:
- Preventing the egg from being released each month (Hormonal Methods)
- Preventing a fertilized egg from implanting (Hormonal Methods)
- Blocking reproduction altogether – in either men or women (Sterilization Methods)
- Preventing sperm from reaching the egg (Barrier and Some IUD Methods)
With all of this in mind, let’s go over the major methods of birth control and the prevention of STDs.
The Male Condom
As mentioned before, the male condom is one of the most common forms of contraceptive. Between being easy to use and its incredible effectiveness at providing protection against STDs such as gonorrhea and HIV/AIDS.
Usually made of latex, those of you who are allergic may want to search for brands that specialize in lambskin or polyurethane condoms. Polyurethane and Lambskin condoms are compatible with lube, while latex ones are not unless the lubricant is water-based. The downside of Lambskin condoms is that they do not provide protection against STDs.
It’s in your best interest to use a new condom each time you have a sexual encounter.
The Female Condom
Like the male condom, these are one of the few forms of contraceptive you can buy over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores, without prescription.
Introduced twenty years ago, it offers 95% effective protection from pregnancy and some protection against STDs. They are generally more expensive than their male counterpart, but less likely to burst. They can be inserted up to eight hours before sex.
Another barrier method, the contraceptive diaphragm is place inside of the vagina, preventing sperm from getting into the uterus. Unlike the condom, they provide no protection against STDs.
You must coat the Diaphragm with Spermicide each time before sex, and a doctor will need to show you how to use it. You need a prescription to get one and you must insert it at least six hours before your sexual encounter, and must remove it after 24 hours for cleaning. Depending on material and type, you can reuse it a number of times.
The Cervical Cap (Femcap)
Sold as Femcap, it is a latex cup – a smaller Diaphragm, if you will. Like the Diaphragm, it must be used with spermicide. It has to remain in the vagina at least six hours but no longer than 48 hours after sex.
Since some women get a bladder infection from the Diaphragm, the Cervical Cap is a very useful replacement because it does not come into as much contact as the Diaphragm. It only covers the cervix.
The problem with these two types of contraception is that they have a lower effectiveness and only offer partial protection against STDs, with no protection against HIV/AIDS.
The Birth Control Pill
The two most commonly used methods of contraception are the Condom and the Birth Control Pill, .
Invented in 1960, while we’re more than fifty years on and many new forms of contraception have been invented, the Pill is still the most popular form of female contraception.
If properly taken (once a day, as prescribed), the Birth Control Pill effectiveness comes close to 99% in preventing pregnancy.
Like most forms of contraception on this list, the Birth Control Pill does not provide any protection at all from STDs. A doctor’s prescription is required to buy and take it, as well.
The Intrauterine Device (IUD)
There are two choices of IUDs – a hormonal or copper IUD. Being part of the very few long-term solutions, they can be kept inside the vagina for up to five or ten years respectively.
Providing no protection against STDs, the effectiveness for IUDs is above 99%. They can be a form of emergency contraception if inserted within 5 days after the sexual encounter. However, you’ll need to see a doctor to have it inserted and follow a prescription.
The Contraceptive Implant
The Contraceptive Implant contains the same hormone as The Birth Control Pill (Progestin/Progesterone), only released at a slow, steady pace over the three year period. It produces the same effects as the pill form.
Another option that offers long-term protection, the Contraceptive Implant lasts for about three years on average. Like IUDs, the implant provides no protection against STDs.
It’s inserted in the arm by a healthcare specialist and must be removed after three years. With the risk of human error removed from the equation, the implant beats Birth Control Pill effectiveness, with an effectiveness of 99.99%.
The Contraceptive Sponge
A small, round-shaped foam placed deep inside of the vagine, the Contraceptive Sponge contains spermicide so that the sperm does not get past the foam. Must be left inside of the vagina for at least six hours after sex, but must be removed within 24 hours after intercourse to avoid risking toxic shock.
The sponge provides no protection against STDs and does not protect past the 24 hours it’s used.
While injectable contraception is about 99% effective, it does come with some side-effects, mostly in that it is not reversible and lasts for 3 months. Using progestin, it has many of the same effects of the Birth Control Pill, and does not protect against STDs.
Included in many forms of contraceptive because it’s so effective when coupled with other forms of contraception, Spermicide doesn’t offer the best protection against pregnancy on its own, mostly due to inconsistent use.
While you can obtain Spermicide without a prescription and has very few side-effects, it does not protect against STDs.
The Vaginal Ring
In order to use the Vaginal Ring, you must get a prescription from your doctor. It contains the same hormones as the Birth Control Pill, providing the same sort of effectiveness as it and side effects, and no protection against STDs.
This is a small, transparent ring inserted into the vagina and left there for three weeks. You need to remove and replace it with a new one afterwards.
The Contraceptive Patch
Like all methods of hormonal birth control, the Contraceptive Patch provides no protection against HIV/AIDS or other STDs. Exactly the same as the Pill, the Patch provides the same effectiveness and side effects.
You wear it for three weeks, take it off for a week to allow for a menstrual cycle, then start with another new patch.
A concern for the Patch is that it can cause skin irritation and a (admittedly small) chance of falling off.
This is here to protect you from pregnancy in case you have unprotected sex. It’s a method meant only for one-time occasions and should not be taken daily.
Protection varies, with some offering up to 95% effectiveness if taken within 24 hours of the sexual encounter, and dropping off significantly after 72 hours. You have to take another if you vomit before three hours have passed after you’re taken this pill.
Available to both men and women, sterilization can provide a very near 100% effectiveness when it comes to protection against pregnancy. There are some very rare cases of the tubes growing back, making this solution not 100% effective.
With men, the technique of sterilization – called a vasectomy – is a very simple, non-invasive procedure where the surgeon ties off and cuts the tubes that carry sperm. They can go home the same day.
For women, the surgical option is the Tubal Ligation, in which the Fallopian tubes are cut and tied, preventing the ovaries and uterus for linking. Non-surgically, there is the option to have a coil placed in each Fallopian tube, causing scars to appear to block each tube completely. This may take up to 3 months to completely block the tubes, so in the meantime you must use another form of contraception.
None of these options provide any protection against HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
The Effectiveness of Contraception
It’s worth noting that no form of contraception is 100% effective, as there will always be a risk of pregnancy due to accidents. That said, the most effective birth control is not simply one form – it’s best to combine multiple forms, such as a hormonal method and a condom. Condoms are about 99% effective, and are the best method to prevent to spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
With birth control and preventing the spread of STDs in mind, abstinence means no sexual contact whatsoever.
Effectiveness of Abstinence
When used consistently, Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs. That said, we recognize there is always the risk that in the heat of the moment you’ll think against abstinence, and so you always need to be prepared for a sexual encounter.
Advantages of Abstinence
- Free and available to everyone, you can start at any time in your life.
- No medical or hormonal side effects.
Disadvantages of Abstinence
- If you count solely on abstinence and change your mind in the moment, you may not have proper protection on hand.
- Abstaining from sex does not mean that your sex drive disappears, and you may have to find a way to redirect that energy.
Again, we understand that you may change your mind in the heat of the moment, and we want to emphasize that you always need to be ready for that, even if that means just having a condom with you.
Keep in Contact With Your OB-GYN
All of this is good to know on your own, but it is equally important to keep in contact with your OB-GYN and have a good working knowledge of your sexual health and wellness. If you’re curious in learning more or want to set up an intake appointment with one of our offices, call us at 716-675-5222.