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Although the symptoms of HIV differ between men and women, many people experience few to no symptoms when they first become infected with the virus. In those who do experience symptoms, women often have flu-like symptoms, such as exhaustion, muscle aches, fevers, and enlarged lymph nodes. More serious symptoms may not appear for 10 years or more, depending on how much of the virus is present in the body.
HIV attacks your body’s T cells, also called CD4 cells, which are a crucial part of your immune system. Without enough CD4 cells, your body is unable to fight infections and other illnesses, often resulting in more severe symptoms and health concerns. In women, these symptoms may include:
- Yeast infections of the vagina or in the mouth (called thrush).
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss.
- Flaky skin or rashes that take a long time to heal.
- Night sweats.
- Other sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia and gonorrhea.
- Changes in menstrual cycles.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Dry, deep coughs.
HIV-positive women can also pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. However, proper prenatal care and treatment can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV. It is common to test all pregnant women for HIV early in their pregnancy so they can start treatment as soon as possible, if needed. Because HIV can be passed through breast milk, being treated for HIV after the baby is born is also important to prevent transmission.