HIV/AIDS Among U.S. Women: Minority and Young Women at Continuing Risk

HIV infection among U.S. women has increased significantly over the last decade, especially in communities of color. CDC estimates that, in the United States, between 120,000 and 160,000 adult and adolescent females are living with HIV infection, including those with AIDS.

AIDS Cases in Adult and Adolescent Women, by Race/Ethnicity, Reported in1999, United States

Between 1992 and 1998, the number of persons living with AIDS increased in all groups, as a result of the 1993 expanded AIDS case definition and, more recently, improved survival among those who have benefited from the new combination drug therapies. During that 6-year period, a growing proportion of women were living with AIDS, reflecting the ongoing shift in populations affected by the epidemic. In 1992, women accounted for 14% of persons living with AIDS -- by 1998, the proportion had grown to 20%.

In just over a decade, the proportion of all AIDS cases reported among adult and adolescent women more than tripled, from 7% in 1985 to 23% in 1999. The epidemic has increased most dramatically among women of color. African American and Hispanic women together represent less than one-fourth of all U.S. women, yet they account for more than three-fourths (77%) of AIDS cases reported to date among women in our country. In 1999 alone (see chart above), women of color represented an even higher proportion of cases.

While AIDS-related deaths among women were decreasing as of 1998, largely as a result of recent advances in HIV treatment, HIV/AIDS remains among the leading causes of death for U.S. women aged 25-44. And among African American women in this same age group, AIDS was the third leading case of death in 1998.

Heterosexual Contact Is Now the Greatest Risk for Women

Sex with Drug Users Plays Large Role

In 1999 most women (40%) reported with AIDS were infected through heterosexual exposure to HIV; injection drug use accounted for 27%. In addition to the direct risks associated with drug injection (sharing needles), drug use also is fueling the heterosexual spread of the epidemic. A large proportion of women infected heterosexually were infected through sex with an injection drug user. Reducing the toll of the epidemic among women will require efforts to combat substance abuse, in addition to reducing HIV risk behaviors.

Many HIV/AIDS cases among women in the United States are initially reported without risk information, suggesting that women may be unaware of their partners' risk factors or that health care providers are not documenting their risk. Historically, more than two-thirds of AIDS cases among women initially reported without identified risk were later reclassified as heterosexual transmission, and just over one-fourth were attributed to injection drug use.

Prevention Needs of Women

1999 AIDS Cases Among Women by Risk Exposure

  • Pay attention to prevention for women. The AIDS epidemic is far from over. Scientists believe that cases of HIV infection reported among 13- to 24-year-olds are indicative of overall trends in HIV incidence (the number of new infections in a given time period, usually a year) because this age group has more recently initiated high-risk behaviors -- and females made up nearly half (49%) of HIV cases in this age group reported from the 32 areas with confidential HIV reporting for adults and adolescents in 1999. Further, for all years combined, young African American and Hispanic women account for more than three-fourths of HIV infections reported among females between the ages of 13 and 24 in these areas.

  • Implement programs that have been proven effective in changing risky behaviors among women and sustaining those changes over time, maintaining a focus on both the uninfected and infected populations of women.

  • Increase emphasis on prevention and treatment services for young women and women of color. Knowledge about preventive behaviors and awareness of the need to practice them is critical for each and every generation of young women -- prevention programs should be comprehensive and should include participation by parents as well as the educational system. Community-based programs must reach out-of-school youth in such settings as youth detention centers and shelters for runaways.

  • Address the intersection of drug use and sexual HIV transmission. Women are at risk of acquiring HIV sexually from a partner who injects drugs and from sharing needles themselves. Additionally, women who use noninjection drugs (e.g., "crack" cocaine, methamphetamines) are at greater risk of acquiring HIV sexually, especially if they trade sex for drugs or money.

  • Develop and widely disseminate effective female-controlled prevention methods. More options are urgently needed for women who are unwilling or unable to negotiate condom use with a male partner. CDC is collaborating with scientists around the world to evaluate the prevention effectiveness of the female condom and to research and develop topical microbicides that can kill HIV and the pathogens that cause STDs.

  • Better integrate prevention and treatment services for women across the board, including the prevention and treatment of other STDs and substance abuse and access to antiretroviral therapy.

For information about national HIV prevention activities, see the following CDC fact sheets:

For More Information

CDC National AIDS Hotline:
Spanish: 1-800-344-SIDA
Deaf: 1-800-243-7889

CDC National Prevention Information Network:
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, Maryland 20849-6003

Internet Resources: