HIV/AIDS and the Transgender Community
According to the CDC, incidences of HIV/AIDS is higher in the transgender population than in the cisgender population (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/transgender/pdf/transgender.pdf ). Reasons behind the high incidence of HIV in transgender people are not currently known due to the lack of research on transgender people and HIV/AIDS. One can speculate that difficulties in language and communication regarding transgender bodies, lack of knowledge of appropriate prevention methods for transgender bodies, and self-esteem issues may all play roles.
Sometimes, transgender people report that it may be difficult for them to find sexual partners and therefore they are more likely to allow sex with a new partner to happen without proper preventative care. Many transgender people struggle with how and when to disclose their transgender status to potential partners. Additionally, many transgender people feel that current language to describe their bodies is limiting, invalidating and inadequate. Pre- and post-surgical transgender bodies may have different needs regarding safer sex barriers than cisgender (non-transgender) bodies. Please see our HIV/AIDS prevention (hyperlink?) page for information on how to protect yourself if you are transgender or if you have a partner who is transgender.
Basic information about HIV and AIDS
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In the human body, HIV infects a certain component of the immune system, weakening the body's defenses against disease over time. When the immune system is weakened enough that the body cannot fight off diseases that would normally pose little threat, even the smallest infection can be deadly.
AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is the term which is used for the host of symptoms caused by a failing immune system due to HIV infection.
Because in many industrialized nations, AIDS was first noticed in the gay male community, a common misconception is that HIV/AIDS is only a risk to Gay men. However, HIV poses a risk for everybody - HIV-infected persons (often referred to as HIV positive, or HIV+) can be of any sexual orientation, race, age, sex, gender identity, socioeconomic background, and profession. HIV truly is a universal threat to all people, and there is still no cure.
How can HIV infect a person?
HIV is transmitted through infected bodily fluids. HIV is found in infectious quantities in blood, semen (including pre-ejaculate or ''pre-cum''), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Most cases of HIV infection are due to any of these fluids from an infected person being directly introduced into another person's body, though it can also be contracted in the womb or during birth by the child of an HIV positive mother.
Some of the most common ways of becoming infected are:
- Unprotected sex with an infected person --
HIV can be transmitted through many different types of unprotected sexual contact, particularly vaginal and anal penetration. While HIV transmission is less likely to happen through oral sex than through penetrative vaginal or anal sex, oral sex isn't completely risk-free; HIV can still be transmitted via oral sex as well. HIV can also be spread through the sharing of sex toys, so precautions should be taken even if there is no direct bodily contact in such a situation.
- Sharing needles for injecting drugs with an infected person --
Blood is the bodily fluid that typically carries the highest concentration of HIV. When people inject any substance, traces of blood are left behind in the needle. If this syringe is re-used for another injection by another person, any infectious agents in this blood can easily be transmitted in this way. While HIV transmission by shared needles is commonly associated with the use of recreational street drugs, some people may also share needles used to inject drugs like insulin, hormones, steroids, and other substances. Regardless of whether a substance is used for medicinal rather than recreational purposes, sharing needles to inject it is always a risky activity.
- Use of infected blood products --
HIV can be transmitted through transfusions of infected blood, or through use of blood products (such as clotting factors) made from infected blood. Blood donated for these purposes is now universally screened for HIV in many parts of the world, so this means of transmission is not very probable in most of the developed world. However, HIV is still spread in this way in some developing countries.
Can a person be infected through other means?
The HIV virus has a delicate structure, so it cannot survive for very long outside of the body. This means that HIV cannot be transmitted through a sneeze or a cough, by touching a surface previously touched by an infected person, or by contact with an infected person that does not involve exposure to bodily fluids, such as shaking hands or hugging.
HIV isn't the only disease to be concerned about. Over fifty known diseases can be transmitted by sexual contact; some of the most common ones are herpes, chlamydia, human papilloma virus (some strains of which cause genital warts), gonorrhea, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and syphilis. While it is generally possible to cure diseases caused by bacteria (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) with antibiotics, viral diseases cannot necessarily be cured (though vaccines which can prevent infection exist for some viral diseases) and some viruses will remain in the body throughout the course of your life. Most of the same precautions used to prevent transmission of HIV are also effective against these other diseases, though some diseases like herpes and genital warts can be spread by skin contact with areas not covered by condoms. It is never a bad idea to check the genital area of anyone you have sex with for sores or lesions, which may indicate an active infection.
Safer sex after sex reassignment surgery
HIV and transgender populations
Health issues for transgender people
CDC’s most recent fact sheet