Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is a major cause of morbidity and mortality among women and children in the United States. In 1995, of the 73,380 acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases reported, women accounted for 13,764 (19%) (1). HIV infection is the third leading cause of death among all U.S. women aged 25-44 years and the leading cause of death among black women in this age group (2). Moreover, an estimated 7000 infants are born to HIV-infected women in the United States each year (3); without intervention, approximately 15%-30% of these infants would be infected (4). HIV counseling and testing services are important for women to reduce their risk for becoming infected or, if already infected, to initiate early treatment and prevent HIV transmission to others, including their infants. This report summarizes findings about HIV-testing practices for women aged 18-44 years based on data obtained from CDC's 1991 and 1993 AIDS Knowledge and Attitudes Supplements to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS-AIDS), which indicate that approximately one third of women aged 18-44 years have been tested for HIV.
The NHIS is an annual national probability sample of the civilian household population of the United States. Data about HIV testing have been collected annually as part of the NHIS-AIDS Supplement since 1987. Information about a broad range of issues related to HIV infection and AIDS was collected through personal interview with one randomly selected adult (aged greater than or equal to 18 years) per household. Response rates for the 1991 and 1993 NHIS-AIDS were 86% and 80%, respectively. Information about voluntary HIV-testing practices was analyzed for women aged 18-44 years who responded to the survey; women who had HIV tests at the time of blood donation were excluded. Because interviews for the 1993 NHIS-AIDS were conducted only for 6 months, the number of responses from women in this age group is smaller (n=6267) than in 1991 (n=13,411). All data were analyzed using SUDAAN and weighted to produce national estimates.
Although the 1993 NHIS-AIDS provides the most recent national data available about HIV testing,* information about current or past pregnancies was collected only during 1991. However, because the number of pregnant women responding to the 1991 survey was too small for meaningful estimates of HIV testing, 1991 data were analyzed for the 30% of women (n=3996) who reported having had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years.
In 1991, 18.8% of women aged 18-44 years reported having been tested for HIV antibody (Table 1). The proportion of black (25.7%) and Hispanic (27.5%) women who reported having been tested was substantially greater than that for white women (16.2%).** In addition, women with less than 12 years of education were more likely to report having ever been tested for HIV (25.1%) compared with high school graduates (17.2%) or those who had completed college (18.9%). A greater percentage of women living in poverty*** reported having been tested for HIV (25.9%) compared with those at or above the poverty level (17.5%). Women who had been previously married were more likely to report having been tested (24.0%) than were those who were currently (18.4%) or never (17.4%) married. Nearly 40% of women who perceived a high or medium risk for becoming or being HIV-infected and 33.1% of those who reported any HIV risk behavior had been tested.**** Compared with women residing in non-metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), women residing in central cities of MSAs were more likely to have been tested (18.1% and 20.5%, respectively); regionally, the highest rates of testing were for women residing in the South (20.6%) and West (22.2%).
From 1991 to 1993, the proportion of women aged 18-44 years who had ever been tested for HIV increased 60% (from 18.8% to 31.8%) (Table 1). Increases were similar across all sociodemographic groups. As in 1991, in the 1993 survey, higher percentages of black and Hispanic women (46.1% and 39.7%, respectively) compared with white women (27.9%) reported having been tested for HIV. Similarly, a higher proportion of women with less than 12 years of education reported having been tested for HIV (36.9%) compared with high school graduates (31.5%) or those with college education (30.4%). In addition, more women living in poverty reported having been tested for HIV (40.2%) than did women living at or above the poverty level (30.3%). HIV-testing trends among women aged 18-44 years were similar to those in 1991 with respect to marital status, risk perception, and region of residence; however, the proportions of women tested in all three groups increased during 1991-1993 (Table 1). During 1991-1993, the proportion of women tested who had higher perceived risk for HIV did not increase; however, the proportion tested with low or no perceived risk nearly doubled.
In 1991, a higher proportion of women who reported having had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years had been tested for HIV (25.7%) compared with all women aged 18-44 years (18.8%) (Table 1). Among women who reported a high or medium risk for becoming or being infected, percentages were similar for those who had had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years (41.0%) and all women (39.6%). Among women who reported having had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years, testing rates were highest among Hispanics (35.0%) and blacks (33.4%), women with less than 12 years of education (34.0%), and those living in poverty (36.2%). Approximately twice as many never-married women who reported having had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years had been tested for HIV (32.5%), compared with all never-married women in this age group (17.4%).
Reported by: Div of Health Interview Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.
Editorial Note: The findings in this report indicate that the proportion of women aged 18-44 years in the United States who reported being tested for HIV infection increased in the early 1990s. This trend may reflect increased knowledge and awareness about HIV and AIDS among women. However, the data in this report probably underestimate current rates of HIV testing in pregnant women because they do not reflect recent changes in testing practices and because testing among women who had a live-born infant during the preceding 5 years is not a good proxy for recent pregnancy. During the period of the surveys, prenatal HIV testing was targeted toward women known to be at increased risk for HIV infection (5). Since then, studies have indicated that such testing strategies failed to identify and offer services to many HIV-infected women (6,7). In 1995, based on these findings and advances in prevention and treatment for HIV infection, including zidovudine therapy to reduce perinatal HIV transmission, the Public Health Service issued recommendations for universal HIV counseling and voluntary testing for pregnant women (4).
The higher rates of testing among poor, less educated minority women may reflect trends in related factors, such as the use of sexually transmitted disease and family-planning clinics as a primary source of health care. In the survey, clinics were a primary site of HIV testing for lower-income minority women. The higher rates of testing among black and Hispanic women also reflect trends in the incidence of AIDS cases in the United States. In particular, the incidence of AIDS among women and minorities has not declined as it has among white males (8). Poor access to medical care, high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and other sociodemographic characteristics continue to be associated with increased risk for infection among minority women. Reducing the risk for HIV infection and AIDS will require culturally appropriate HIV-prevention interventions that address the particular concerns of black and Hispanic women (9,10).
Congress recently passed legislation stating that HIV
counseling and voluntary testing should be the standard of care for
all pregnant women in the United States*****. Surveys such as the
NHIS-AIDS and other studies will provide important data to help
public health and other health-care professionals evaluate the
extent of implementation of this prevention measure and its impact
on reducing HIV-related morbidity and mortality among women and
* Data about HIV testing and other AIDS-related knowledge and attitudes were collected in 1994 and 1995; however these data are not yet available for analysis.
** Numbers for other racial groups were too small for meaningful analysis.
*** Poverty statistics are based on a definition originated by the Social Security Administration in 1964, that was subsequently modified by federal interagency committees in 1969 and 1980, and prescribed by the Office of Management and Budget as the standard to be used by federal agencies for statistical purposes.
**** Respondents were asked whether they 1) had hemophilia or other clotting disorder and had received clotting concentrations since 1977; 2) had injected illegal drugs at any time since 1977; 3) had exchanged sex for money or drugs since 1977; and 4) had been the sex partner since 1977 of someone to whom any of these conditions applied.
***** Public Law 101-545.