AIDS cases are increasing among women, even in U.S.

Sex has supplanted intravenous drug use as the most frequent route to HIV/AIDS infection for women, according to a panel of experts.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Feb. 13, 2006

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Washington -- The face of AIDS is just as likely to be that of a woman as a man.

In 2005, about one-half of people infected with HIV globally were women, according to data presented last month at a Capitol Hill briefing.

In the United States, women represent more than one in three new HIV infections and one in four new AIDS cases.

HIV is most often transmitted to women through heterosexual sex and during their childbearing years, according to data provided by amFAR -- Foundation for AIDS Research, which sponsored the briefing with the Society for Women's Health Research and Women's Policy Inc.

Black and Hispanic women make up a disproportionate amount of new AIDS cases, said Lynn Paxton, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division on HIV/AIDS prevention.

Although black women represent only 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 67% of AIDS cases among women, Dr. Paxton said. Hispanic women, 11% of the population, account for 16% of women with AIDS.

The route to infection has undergone a major shift in the past 20 years, she noted. In 1985, transmission through injection drug use was responsible for 53% of AIDS cases among the nation's women, while, by 2003, transmission via heterosexual sex was responsible for 71% of cases.

The largest number of new cases are among women who live in the southeast, Dr. Paxton said. Especially troubling are the more frequent diagnoses among 13- to 19-year-olds.

Women's vulnerability to infection because of physiology, lack of information and lack of control over sexual relations should drive necessary changes in health care, said Cynthia Gomez, PhD, the co-director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California at San Francisco.

Such changes should include improved education; universal access to health care, including for immigrants; and linguistically tailored services, Dr. Gomez said.

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Troubling trend

In the United States

  • Women represent more than 1 in 3 new HIV infections.
  • The proportion of AIDS cases reported among adolescent and adult females has more than tripled since 1986.
  • Girls make up 57% of people age 13 to 19 with new HIV infections.
  • AIDS is the fourth-leading cause of death for women age 25 to 44.

Around the world

  • Women constitute about half of all people living with HIV.
  • Since 2002, the number of women with HIV has risen in every region of the world, with Eastern Europe and Central Asia marking the sharpest increases.

Source: amFAR -- Foundation for Aids Research

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External links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention (link)

Foundation for AIDS Research (link)

HIV/AIDS resources from the AMA (link)

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The print version of this story mischaracterized the AIDS case rate among black women. U.S. black women account for 67% of cases among women. American Medical News regrets the error.

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