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Diseases & Conditions


(Also Called 'AIDS and Women - Women')

How is HIV/AIDS affecting women?

Researchers have found that HIV and AIDS are affecting more women worldwide. The World Health Organization reported that by the end of 2002, 19.2 million women were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, accounting for approximately 50 percent of the 38.6 million adults living with HIV/AIDS. Studies show that women are more vulnerable because of biological, epidemiological and social reasons.

Biologically speaking a woman is more vulnerable to heterosexual transmission of the disease because the genitalia are easily exposed to seminal fluids. Gender inequality has great influence on the spread of HIV/AIDS among women. For example in some cultures, many women and girls are often put in situations where they engage in non-consensual sex or have sex for money. In the U.S. minority communities have been hit the hardest by HIV. African American and Hispanic women together represent less than 25% of all U.S. women, yet they account for more than 78% of AIDS cases reported among women in our country.


Here are a few more statistics regarding women and HIV/AIDS:

  • Worldwide, more than 1 million women died of AIDS last year
  • In the U.S. the proportion of AIDS cases among adolescent and adult women more than tripled from 7% in 1985 to 25% in 2001
  • Each year in the United States, approximately 57,000 new HIV infections occur, about 70 percent among men and 30 percent among women. Of these newly infected people, half are younger than 25 years of age.
  • Transmission from men to women is two times more likely than from women to men
Risk factors

Risks for contracting HIV/AIDS include:

  • Having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal and oral) with an infected person
  • Having sexual contact with someone not knowing their HIV status
  • Sharing needles or syringes

New CDC guidelines encourage all persons age 18-45 to be tested for HIV. All women should be tested during pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms

Early diagnosis of the HIV disease allows women to take full advantage of treatments and medicines to reduce the degree of complications. Many symptoms of HIV/AIDS occur in both men and women, including:

  • Low-grade fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Large lymph nodes or "swollen glands" that may be enlarged for more than three months

However, some conditions occur in different rates among men and women. In some cases, women have higher rates of herpes simplex infections than men. There are also numerous HIV-associated gynecological problems that are more specific, many of which occur in uninfected women with less frequency or severity. Some of these include:

  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Other vaginal infections (bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhea and other common STIs)
  • Severe herpes simplex virus ulcerations
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Menstrual irregularities

How can HIV/AIDS be prevented?

Primary prevention of the disease is education. Women should have knowledge of their own reproductive systems and the health risks associated with sexual activity. Because no vaccine for HIV is available, the only way to prevent infection by the virus is to avoid behaviors that put a person at risk of infection. The following are ways to decrease the risk of infection:

  • Abstaining from sexual activity
  • Proper use of male latex condoms or female polyurethane condoms during oral, anal, or vaginal sex
  • Knowing your partners HIV status (by repeatedly testing)
  • Not sharing drug needles or syringes

If I am diagnosed can I be treated?

There is no cure for HIV. However, there are drugs to treat HIV and allow those infected to live more normal lives.

Where can I learn more?

CDC Hotline: 800.232.4636

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/26/2010...#8583