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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Women
Michelle Lopez Alora Gale Precious Jackson Nina Martinez Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga Loreen Willenberg  
Michelle Alora Precious Nina Gracia Loreen  
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HIV and Women

April 17, 2017


Key Points
  • Approximately 25% of people living with HIV in the United States are women.
  • The most common way that women get HIV is through sex with an HIV-infected male partner (called sexual transmission).
  • Several factors increase the risk of HIV infection in women. For example, during unprotected vaginal sex, HIV passes more easily from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man. (Unprotected sex is sex without a condom). A woman's risk of HIV can also increase because of her partner's high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or having unprotected sex with other men.
  • Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women.
  • Women with HIV take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to protect their own health.


Does HIV Affect Women?

Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25% of people living with HIV in the United States are women.

Here are more facts about HIV among women, from CDC:

  • Among all women diagnosed with HIV in 2015, 61% were African American, 19% were white, and 15% were Hispanic/Latino.
  • The most common way that women get HIV is through sex with an HIV-infected male partner (called sexual transmission).
  • Most women who have HIV know that they are infected, but many are not getting the ongoing care they need.

Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART is recommended for everyone infected with HIV. In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women.


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What Factors Put Women at Risk for HIV?

HIV is spread through the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, or breast milk of a person infected with HIV. The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission.

The main risk factors for HIV transmission are the same for women as for men:

  • Having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with a person infected with HIV
  • Sharing drug injection equipment (such as needles and syringes) with a person who has HIV

Several factors increase the risk of HIV infection in women. For example, during unprotected vaginal sex, HIV passes more easily from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man. Age-related thinning and dryness of the vagina may also increase the risk of HIV infection in older women. A woman's risk of HIV can also increase because of her partner's high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or having unprotected sex with other men.


Is HIV Treatment the Same for Men and Women?

In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women. However, there are some issues unique to women that can affect their HIV treatment. These issues include the increased risk of side effects with some HIV medicines, birth control, and pregnancy.


Side Effects

Some side effects from HIV medicines may be more frequent or more severe in women than in men. For example, the risk of liver-related side effects due to nevirapine (brand name: Viramune) is greater for women than for men.


Birth Control

Some HIV medicines may reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives, for example birth control pills, patches, rings, or implants. Women taking these HIV medicines may have to use an additional or different form of birth control. For more information, view the AIDSinfo HIV and Birth Control infographic.


Pregnancy

Women with HIV take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to protect their health.

The following factors affect the use of HIV medicines during pregnancy:

  • Changes during pregnancy that can affect how the body processes HIV medicines. Because of these changes, the dose of an HIV medicine may change during pregnancy.
  • Possible side effects from HIV medicines that may make it harder to stick to an HIV regimen during pregnancy.
  • The potential risk of birth defects with the use of some HIV medicines. No HIV medicines have been clearly linked to birth defects, but some medicines have raised concerns. Pregnant women and their health care providers carefully consider the benefits and risks of specific HIV medicines when choosing an HIV regimen to use during pregnancy.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

From CDC:

From the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents: HIV-Infected Women
  • Recommendations for Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant HIV-1-Infected Women for Maternal Health and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States: General Principles Regarding Use of Antiretroviral Drugs During Pregnancy: Overview and Teratogenicity

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This article was provided by AIDSinfo. Visit the AIDSinfo website to find out more about their activities and publications.
 

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