HIV and Specific Populations

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HIV and Women

Last Reviewed: November 6, 2018

Key Points

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 23% of all Americans living with HIV at the end of 2014 were women.
  • The most common way that women get HIV is through sex with a male partner who has HIV.
  • Several factors increase the risk of HIV infection in women. For example, during vaginal sex without a condom, HIV passes more easily from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man. A woman’s risk of HIV can also increase because of her partner’s high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or having sex with other partners without using condoms.
  • Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is recommended for everyone who has HIV. In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women.
  • Women with HIV take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to protect their own health. 

Does HIV affect women?

Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 23% of all Americans living with HIV at the end of 2014 were women.

Here are more facts about HIV among women, from CDC:

  • Among all women who received an HIV diagnosis in 2016, 61% were African American, 19% were white, 16% were Hispanic/Latina, and 5% were other.
  • The most common way that women get HIV is through sex with a male partner who has HIV.
  • Most women who have HIV know that they are HIV positive, but many are not getting the ongoing care they need.  

Treatment with HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV. In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women.

What factors put women at risk for HIV?

HIV is spread through the blood, pre-seminal fluids, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, or breast milk of a person who has HIV. The spread of HIV from person to person is called HIV transmission.

In the United States, the main risk factors for HIV transmission are the same for women as for men:

  • Having anal or vaginal sex with a person who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV
  • Sharing injection drug equipment ("works"), such as needles, with a person who has HIV

Several factors increase the risk of HIV infection in women. For example, during vaginal sex without a condom, HIV passes more easily from a man to a woman than from a woman to a man. Age-related thinning and dryness of the vagina may also increase the risk of HIV infection in older women. A woman’s risk of HIV can also increase because of her partner’s high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use or having sex with other partners without using condoms.

Is HIV treatment the same for men and women?

In general, recommendations on the use of HIV medicines are the same for men and women. However, birth control and pregnancy are two issues that can affect HIV treatment in women:

Birth control
Some HIV medicines may reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives, for example birth control pills, patches, rings, or implants. Women taking certain HIV medicines may have to use an additional or different form of birth control. For more information, view the AIDSinfo HIV and Birth Control infographic.

Pregnancy
Women with HIV take HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to protect their health. 

The following factors affect the use of HIV medicines during pregnancy:
  • Changes during pregnancy that can affect how the body processes HIV medicines. Because of these changes, the dose of an HIV medicine may change during pregnancy.
  • Possible side effects from HIV medicines that may make it harder to stick to an HIV regimen during pregnancy. 
  • The potential risk of birth defects with the use of some HIV medicines. Pregnant women and their health care providers carefully consider the benefits and risks of specific HIV medicines when choosing an HIV regimen to use during pregnancy.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

From CDC:

From the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Adults and Adolescents Living with HIV: Women with HIV 
  • Recommendations for the Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant Women with HIV Infection and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV Transmission in the United States: General Principles Regarding Use of Antiretroviral Drugs During Pregnancy: Overview and Teratogenicity  

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