Any woman of any age or race can get HIV. But based on statistics, some women are at higher risk of contracting the disease. HIV is a disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus.
This virus works by attacking cells in the immune system, leaving the infected person open to other serious and potentially fatal infections. HIV is also the infection that leads to AIDS.
These numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the risk of being infected with HIV for women of different races:
• 1 in 32 black women
• 1 in 106 Hispanic/Latina women
• 1 in 182 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women
• 1 in 217 American Indian and Alaskan Native women
• 1 in 526 white and Asian women
From 2000 to 2007, HIV infection was one of the top causes of death for black females ages 10 to 54 and Hispanic women ages 15 to 54. In 2009, there were an estimated 11,200 new HIV infections diagnosed in women. This amounts to 23 percent of total HIV diagnoses.
That same year, the number of newly diagnosed black women was 15 times higher than white women and 3 times higher than Hispanic and Latina women. (CDC)
Women can get HIV at any age, but young women are more likely to have HIV than middle-aged women. The CDC also estimates that more than half of women aged 13 to 24 who have HIV have not been diagnosed. (Women’s Health.gov)
Young women may be at increased risk for a number of reasons including:
• Reproductive system – Young women who are sexually active are at higher risk for HIV because their reproductive systems are still relatively immature, which may make them more receptive to HIV.
• Lack of knowledge – Some young women may be unaware of the risks of HIV. Women in this age group may also be less likely to know their partner’s history including whether the partner has had unprotected sex or has injected drugs.
• Power – Young women may have less power or control over their own relationships. They may also have a harder time than older women convincing their partners to use a condom.
• STIs – Young women are more likely than older women to have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which make them more vulnerable to HIV.
You may think older women are less likely to have HIV but in actuality, 24 percent of people with HIV are 50 or older. Here are some possible reasons why:
• Older women may not know about HIV or may not realize HIV is active in both the developed and developing countries in the world.
• Older women who were taught about Venereal Disease or “VD” in school may not recognize what an STI (sexually transmitted infection) is.
• Older women who are past menopause may not think about using condoms for STI protection once the chance of pregnancy is past.
• Older women may incorrectly think older men are “safe” and could not have HIV.
• Older women may be less comfortable talking to their doctors about HIV and other issues. Doctors may also be less likely to counsel older women about HIV safety.
Women who are in a higher risk group need to be more vigilant to protect their health. HIV is primarily transmitted to women through heterosexual sex when a condom is not used. Whatever your age or race, you can reduce your risk of HIV by not having sex, or by always using a condom if you are sexually active.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV among Women. Web. October 23, 2011.
WomensHealth.gov. HIV/AIDS. Web. October 23, 2011.
WomensHealth.gov. HIV/AIDS: Women of all ages can get HIV. Web. October 23, 2011.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Women and HIV. Web. October 23, 2011.
Reviewed October 27, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith