Remains Serious Threat
by Jennifer Wider, MD
(Washington DC 6/23/04): The number of women in the world infected with HIV
(human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
has been consistently climbing over the past years. According to the World
Health Organization (WHO), women currently comprise 50 percent of the global
In the United States, HIV/AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death for women
between the ages of 35-44, and the sixth leading cause of death for women between
the ages of 25-34. Heterosexual intercourse accounts for more than 80
percent of all teenage and adult HIV infections in the world, according to National
Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Being tested for HIV/AIDS has not become routine in the United States.
The Kaiser Family Foundation's recent "Survey of Americans on HIV/AIDS"
shows that only 50 percent of people over the age of 18 have ever been tested
for HIV. Among those not tested, the most common reason was a feeling
of not being at risk.
The survey also revealed mistaken beliefs about the test itself among American
adults. Nearly 25 percent thought the test was part of their annual physical
exam and many didn't realize that it needed to be formally requested by the
patient. People participating in the survey disclosed concerns about being
stigmatized for getting tested.
Despite the numbers being screened for HIV/AIDS, significant strides have been
made in diagnosing the disease. Researchers at the Institute of Human
Virology at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine in Baltimore have
developed a new test that can detect HIV earlier and monitor the disease better
than ever before.
"This test is ultra-sensitive and detects a component of the virus rather
than the body's immune response," Niel Constantine, Ph.D., a researcher
at the institute, said. "The new test has the potential to detect
the virus earlier than twelve days post event."
The hope is that early detection leads to earlier treatment and a better outcome
for the patient, but more studies are needed to confirm this assumption.
At the present time, the new test is too expensive to be used for screening
the general population. It will most likely play a role in screening blood
donations at national registries.
The new test will also play a role in monitoring the disease in patients who
have HIV/AIDS. "It can provide an early indication that the disease
is mutating in patients who have already been treated and warn doctors that
treatment needs to be altered," Constantine explained.
As diagnostic tests and treatment options become more sophisticated, the most
effective way to combat HIV/AIDS remains education. "The first thing
is education and condom use," Constantine said. Protected sex is
vital in the prevention of these diseases.
Sexual relationships between men and women seem to pose higher risks for women.
There is much evidence that women who participate in heterosexual intercourse
are at higher risk for HIV infection than their male counterparts. During
unprotected sex, a woman is two times more likely to absorb the virus than a
man because the infected semen comes in contact with a larger mucous membrane
HIV/AIDS seems to affect women and men differently. For example, women
tend to experience dramatic reductions in body weight more often than men, which
may result in wasting syndrome. There are gender-specific consequences
of HIV/AIDS for women including recurrent vaginal yeast infections and pelvic
inflammatory disease. There is also much evidence suggesting that women
and men respond differently to certain drug treatments.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. For more information on HIV testing
or to find a testing location in your area, visit www.hivtest.org,
a service provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Society for Women's
Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization
whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded
in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex
differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease,
and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica
Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its
Board of Directors.
Created: 6/23/2004  - Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/5/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.