Today is America’s first National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

“This day of recognition serves to raise awareness of the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls in the United States and throughout the world,” Anthony S. Fauci, MD, says, in a news release.

Fauci directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Today we have an opportunity to encourage women and girls to learn more about HIV/AIDS and how to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Cristina Beato, MD, U.S. principal assistant secretary for health, says in a news release.

“Each of us needs to get tested, to learn our HIV status, and to protect our health,” Beato continues. “If you are HIV-positive, seek medical care and support now. If you are HIV-negative, stay that way through healthy behaviors.”

AIDS Taking on a Female Face

Cases Rising Among Women

HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- and AIDS have been rising for women in the U.S. and around the world.

Consider these facts cited by Fauci:

In the U.S., women accounted for 7 percent of all AIDS cases in 1985 and 27 percent in 2004. Globally, about 17.5 million women were living with HIV/AIDS in 2005 – a million more than in 2003.

“Worldwide, the vast majority of women and girls with HIV/AIDS became infected via heterosexual intercourse, frequently in settings where saying no to sex or insisting on condom use is not an option because of cultural factors, lack of financial independence, and even the threat of violence,” Fauci says.

More Than 1 Million Americans Living With HIV

HIV/AIDS in U.S. Women

Women of color, especially black women, account for most new cases among U.S. women.

“Among women newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS between 2001 and 2004, an estimated 83 percent were African-American or Hispanic,” Fauci observes.

“Younger women and girls are particularly vulnerable,” he adds, pointing out females accounted for 38 percent of all people aged 25 and younger diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from 2001-2004.

In the early days of HIV/AIDS, “relatively few” women were infected with HIV, Fauci notes. Those days are long gone. “Today… women and girls represent one of the fastest-growing groups affected by HIV/AIDS,” he says.

AIDS Virus May Be Weakening

Different in Women

“Women experience HIV/AIDS differently from men,” says Fauci. For instance:

--Biology makes women more vulnerable to becoming infected by HIV than men.

--HIV-infected women may have sex-specific problems, including recurrent vaginal infections and disease progression at lower levels of HIV.

--Women have been shown to metabolize (break down) HIV drugs differently than men, which might affect how those drugs affect women.

--Generally, HIV-infected women are diagnosed and start treatment at later stages of infection than men.

Get the Facts About HIV and AIDS

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Statement of Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. News release, Department of Health and Human Services. Reuters.