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. Some reasons for the high HIV rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives include:
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. American Indians and Alaska Natives have high rates of STI.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse — People who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex. Alcohol and drug abuse are problems in many American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
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.
Cultural factors — Because the American Indian and Alaska Native population is so diverse, creating tailored prevention programs for each group is a challenge.
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.