An Australian woman had to Google her medical symptoms after doctors refused to entertain the possibility she could be HIV-positive.
Sydney native Abby Landy, 28, first noticed something wrong after her body broke out in cold sores five years ago, according to News.com.au. She just started a new relationship and went to a local clinic for a sexual health screening.
"I was given some antiviral for the cold sores and it came back all clear," said Landy. "Everything was negative."
Because she was a heterosexual woman in Australia, doctors said the chances of her becoming infected with HIV were "slim."
But Landy knew that something was wrong. She consistently felt physically ill and received a text from a former sexual partner reading, "I hope you remember me forever."
She decided to go online to do some research, finding that her symptoms all pointed to a diagnosis of HIV-positive. When Landy returned to the doctor to tell him her findings, she was once again told that she shouldn't worry.
"She said, 'Abby, it's probably not necessary. You know, you're an Australian woman, the chances of you having come into contact or contracting HIV are so slim that doing the test probably isn't necessary,'" Landy told Australia's ABC.
This time, despite her doctor's reassurances, Landy insisted on getting an HIV test.
"She ordered the test and I got a call back about three days later asking me to come back in," Landy told News.com.au. "I was still really [sick] at this point and the doctor was really visibly distressed. She said, ‘I’m so sorry but it looks like you’ve contracted HIV.'"
Landy was luckily diagnosed relatively early and will be able to manage the illness for the rest of her life. However, she wanted to tell her story to bring attention to that fact that many women who are HIV-positive are often misdiagnosed.
"Women are far too often silenced, and their experiences are unrecognized and unaddressed because women don’t meet the stereotype of the so-called typical person who’s going to contract HIV," said AIDS Action Council’s Philippa Moss. "HIV is seen to be a gay man’s disease, when in fact it’s not."
The National Association of People with HIV Australia agreed, saying that women often don't receive potentially life-saving screenings because they don't fit the "image" of who contracts HIV.
"Testing is not only not on women's minds, but also [not on the minds of] health care practitioners and some GPs," said Kath Leane, head of the association's women's network.
Around 3,000 women in Australia are reported to be living with HIV. Leane says that many often don't find out that they are HIV-positive until it's too late.
"Often, women risk not even testing, or they only test after themselves or a sexual partner becomes unwell," she said. "Anyone who is sexually active is at risk. And it makes no sense to me why you wouldn't run the test routinely."