Early in the epidemic, HIV infection and AIDS were diagnosed for relatively few women and female adolescents (although we know now that many women were infected with HIV through injection drug use but that their infections were not diagnosed). Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. Women of color are especially affected by HIV infection and AIDS. In 2004 (the most recent year for which data are available), HIV infection was:
* the leading cause of death for black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years.
* the 3rd leading cause of death for black women aged 35–44 years.
* the 4th leading cause of death for black women aged 45–54 years.
* the 4th leading cause of death for Hispanic women aged 35–44 years.
In the same year, HIV infection was the 5th leading cause of death among all women aged 35–44 years and the 6th leading cause of death among all women aged 25–34 years. The only diseases causing more deaths of women were cancer and heart disease.
WHAT DO WOMEN NEED TO KNOW?
* Women are at risk for HIV infection. Many women think AIDS is a disease of gay men. But women get HIV from sharing needles and from heterosexual sex.
* During sex, HIV is transmitted from men to women much more easily than from women to men. A woman's risk of infection is higher with anal intercourse, or if she has a vaginal disease. The risk of infection is higher if your sex partner is or was an injection drug user, has other sex partners, has had sex with infected people, or has sex with men.
* Women should protect themselves against HIV infection. Having male sex partners use condoms lowers the chance of HIV infection. There is a female condom that provides some protection, but not as much as a male condom. Other forms of birth control, such as birth control pills, diaphragms, or implants do NOT provide protection against HIV. Several microbicides (creams, gels, and foams) that women can use to prevent HIV infection are in final testing.
* Get tested if you think you were exposed to HIV. Many women don't find out they have HIV until they become ill or get tested during pregnancy. Women who aren't tested for HIV seem to get sick and die faster than men. But if they get tested and treated, they live as long as men.
* Gynecological problems can be early signs of HIV infection. Ulcers in the vagina, persistent yeast infections, and severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can be signs of HIV. Hormone changes, birth control pills, or antibiotics can also cause these vaginal problems. See your health care provider to make sure you know the cause.
* Women get more and different side effects than men. Women are more likely than men to get skin rashes and liver problems, and to experience body shape changes (lipodystrophy. They also have more problems caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) HPV does not seem to improve when people take antiretroviral therapy (ART).
* Many women are parents in addition to dealing with their health and employment. This can make it more difficult to take medications and schedule medical appointments. With proper support, however, women do very well on HIV treatment.