Women and HIV/AIDS

There are more than one million HIV-positive individuals living in the United States today, with women becoming increasingly at risk. Women represent 26% of all new HIV infections.1 As we mark National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10, we encourage you to get the facts on HIV and to learn how to protect yourself, your children, and others you love.

How women get HIV
Most women who contract HIV get it through heterosexual contact. Non-consensual sex, sex without condom use, and the unknown and/or high-risk behaviors of their partners are major risk factors that may lead to HIV infection.

babyPassing HIV onto Babies
Passing HIV onto your baby is known as mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). About 50 to 70 percent of MTCTs occur late in pregnancy or during birth.2 Although the exact ways the virus is transmitted are unknown, scientists think it may happen when the mother's blood enters fetal circulation or by mucosal exposure to the virus during labor and delivery. The risk of MTCT is significantly increased if the mother has advanced HIV disease, high amounts of HIV in her bloodstream, or fewer-than-normal amounts of the CD4+ T cells. Other factors that may increase the risk include drug use, such as heroin or crack/cocaine, severe inflammation of fetal membranes, and a prolonged period between membrane rupture and delivery.

Studies have found that Azidothymidine (AZT) and a combination of antiretroviral therapies during pregnancy help to decrease mother to child transmission.

Signs of HIV infection in women
Men and women who are infected with HIV many experience low-grade fevers, night sweats, fatigue, and weight loss. Some studies have shown that HIV-positive women have higher rates of herpes simplex infections. HIV-infected women are also more likely to develop bacterial pneumonia.3

Women with HIV may also experience irregularities in their menstrual cycles. Vaginal yeast infections, which are commonly experienced by many women, are often persistent and difficult to treat in women who are HIV-infected. Infections including bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis may occur more frequently and with greater severity. Infections from the human papillomavirus (HPV) which cause genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer occur more frequently in HIV-infected women. A precancerous condition associated with HPV, called cervical dysplasia, is also more common and more severe in HIV-infected women.

Protect Yourselves and the Women You Love

use condoms

  • Get tested for HIV
  • Get educated about how HIV is spread from person to person
  • Talk with your partners about safe sex.
  • Get involved in your local community in raising HIV awareness
  • Get treated if you are currently living with HIV or are newly diagnosed

Women and girls are taking action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. What can YOU do? National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day - March 10

Related Link:
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

1 Department of Health & Human Services.
2 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
3 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases