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U.S. News

California: HIV's Hidden Victims -- More Latina Immigrants Are Being Infected, Often by Husbands or Boyfriends

March 1, 2006

Latinas are increasingly at risk of HIV infection, often by husbands or boyfriends who secretly inject drugs or have sex with men, studies find. At the end of June last year, 30 percent of all California women with HIV were Latina, resulting in an infection rate about twice that of white women.

"Latina women are not aware of what their sex partners are involved in," said Juan Ruiz, chief of HIV/AIDS Epidemiology for California's Office of AIDS.

Like many African-American women, Latinas often discover they are HIV-positive when they or their partners become ill, thus failing to benefit from early treatment. Even when they suspect their partner's infidelities or drug use, Latinas frequently are emotionally or economically dependent, and so defer to or do not ask their partners questions. The women may not even tell their families of their positive diagnosis.

In addition, some women may lack required residential documents. "Some of the women fear that we are going to report them" to immigration authorities, said Yolanda Salinas, a case manager for the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). "We reassure them that this is all confidential."

Claudia Pena's live-in boyfriend knew he had HIV for years before falling sick, when she found she had HIV. "In our culture, this is like a taboo disease," said Pena. "Even if you have it, you don't talk about it." That is why she goes to weekly meetings at a Hollywood-based support group for Latinas who have HIV, the only place where she feels at home.

Pena receives free care through AHF, where a physician prescribed her AIDS treatment. Though it has caused her nightmares, nausea and drowsiness, her T-cell count is now 522, high above the 200 cell count used for an AIDS diagnosis. Her two children are negative, and she prays daily to stay healthy enough to care for them.

Back to other news for March 1, 2006

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
02.25.06; Anna Gorman

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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