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Women and HIV/AIDS

June 3, 2014

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Women and HIV/AIDS

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A Look at the Numbers

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Over 30 years have passed since the first diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in America. While there were a handful of women among the first cases, AIDS was thought primarily to affect gay men. However, as the years passed, women have emerged as another group hard hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Globally, women living with HIV (HIV+) account for half of all HIV+ people, and in many countries, HIV+ women outnumber HIV+ men.

In the US: The proportion of HIV/AIDS cases among women in the US more than tripled from seven percent in 1985 to an alarming 24 percent in 2009. That means that about one in four Americans living with HIV is a woman. The good news is that, from 2008 to 2010, women represented a noticeably smaller percentage of new HIV infections (21 percent decrease) after more than ten years of steadily increasing numbers. Women currently account for one if five new HIV infections in the US.

HIV affects both younger and older women. In fact, the rate of HIV diagnoses in older women has been rising recently; in 2010, people aged 45 and older accounted for 23 percent of new HIV diagnoses -- almost the same percent as younger women 13 to 24 years old (22 percent).

In 2010, more than eight out of ten HIV+ women in the United States were women of color. Among women of color, African-American women are especially affected. Although African-American adolescent and adult women made up only 13 percent of the US female population, they accounted for over two-thirds of all new HIV infections among women. Latinas made up 16 percent of the US female population and accounted for 15 percent of all new HIV infections among women. For African-American women, the rate of HIV diagnosis was almost 20 times as high as the rate for white women in the US. For Latinas, it was almost four times as high as the rate for white women.

Globally: The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 18 million adults living with HIV are women. Although women account for approximately half of all HIV+ people worldwide, the percentage of women who are HIV+ varies widely among countries. Estimates suggest that one in three HIV+ people in the United Kingdom are women; almost four out of ten HIV+ people in India are women; and almost six in ten HIV+ people in sub-Saharan Africa are women. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that, in 26 of 31 countries with generalized epidemics of HIV/AIDS, fewer than half of young women in these countries have correct and thorough knowledge about HIV.

Transmission: Heterosexual sex (sex between a male and female) is the most common way of getting HIV (or mode of transmission) among women in the US. During heterosexual sex, HIV is passed almost twice as easily from men to women as from women to men. More than eight out of every ten HIV+ women in the US get the virus through sex with an HIV+ man. Heterosexual sex is also the main source of HIV transmission for women in many other countries in Africa, South America, and Western Europe. Sharing HIV-contaminated syringes for injecting drugs is another common mode of transmission.


Is HIV Different for Men and Women?

Until recent years, little research had been done on women and HIV. While many questions remain unanswered, available information shows that HIV affects men and women differently in some ways:

  • When women are first diagnosed, they tend to have lower viral loads (amount of HIV in the blood) compared to men who are newly diagnosed
  • Women generally have lower CD4 cell counts than men with similar viral loads
  • Women are more likely than men to develop bacterial pneumonia
  • Women have higher rates of herpes infections than men
  • Women get thrush (a yeast infection) in their throats more often than men
  • Men are eight times more likely than women to develop Kaposi's sarcoma or KS (a cancer-like disease caused by a herpes virus)

Women tend to be diagnosed with HIV later in their disease than men and fewer women than men are getting HIV treatment. Women may delay getting medical care and treatment for several reasons, including:

  • Limited access to health care due to lack of insurance and/or transportation
  • Unstable housing
  • Fear of violence in the home (domestic violence)
  • Other responsibilities such as child care or caring for a sick family member
  • The stigma associated with HIV
  • Problems with substance abuse or addiction
  • Depression
  • Lack of financial resources and/or social supports
  • Mistrust of health care providers and/or the medical system
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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
 

 

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