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Strategies for Preventing HIV in Women

What are the risk factors for women?

July, 1997

Heterosexual transmission is the most rapidly increasing transmission category among women with HIV, especially young women. Among women reported with AIDS in 1996, 40 percent acquired HIV through heterosexual contact with at-risk partners (CDC, NCHSTP, 1996).

Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) facilitate HIV transmission. Epidemiological studies from four continents (including North America) have repeatedly linked STDs with a three- to five-fold increased risk for HIV transmission (Wasserheit, 1992). This is true for both STDs that cause genital ulcers (e.g., syphilis, herpes, or chancroid) and non-ulcerative STDs (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis). Infection with another STD can significantly increase a woman's risk for acquiring HIV infection if exposed to the virus through sexual contact. Co-infection with other STDs also increases the infectiousness of HIV-infected individuals: these individuals are more likely to shed HIV in genital secretions, and they are also more likely to shed HIV in greater amounts.

The second leading cause of HIV infection among women is injection drug use. Among women reported with AIDS in 1996, 34 percent acquired HIV through injection drug use (CDC, NCHSTP, 1996). But IDU is not the only way that drug use is fueling the AIDS epidemic among women. Data from a CDC study of young adults, ages 18 to 29, showed a high prevalence of HIV among women who had recently had unprotected sex in exchange for crack cocaine or for money. In fact, these women were as likely to be HIV-infected as men who had had sex with men (Edlin et al., 1994).

Female-to-female transmission of HIV is relatively rare; the majority of cases of HIV infection among women who have sex with women have been ascribed to heterosexual intercourse or injection drug use (IDU) (Bevier et al., 1995; Chu et al., 1990, 1994; Cohen et al., 1993).

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 


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