Over a three-year period, Maryland has registered HIV-infection levels for childbearing women that are among the highest in the United States, says the state health department's AIDS Administration.
Only three other states -- New York, New Jersey and Florida -- and the District of Columbia, have HIV-infection rates for childbearing women that exceed Maryland's.
While the dramatic rise in rates seen between 1988 and 1989 was not repeated in 1990, the number of childbearing women infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes the fatal AIDS, remains high enough to be of grave concern, health department officials said yesterday.
The results from the 1990 survey indicate that about 36 out of every 10,000 mothers were infected with HIV. The rate for 1989 was 42 for each 10,000 and in 1988, 31 for each 10,000.
The results of the survey also "firmly establish" that non-white women bear a greater burden of HIV infection than white women -- except in the youngest age groups, according to a new AIDS Administration report.
Since HIV infection may be detected many years before the onset of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the HIV survey of mothers provides evidence that the high AIDS rate in black women will persist into the future, the research team concluded.
"The results of the latest study still show a serious problem, and point out the need for continued AIDS education and prevention efforts," said Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of the health department.
Dr. Kathleen F. Edwards, director of the state's AIDS Administration, said, "The level of HIV infection in childbearing women in Maryland remains essentially the same. Although the 1990 rate shows a drop from 1989, the difference is not statistically significant."
Maryland is one of 44 states funded by the National Centers for Disease Control to conduct a survey of HIV infection among childbearing women. The survey was conducted during six-month periods in 1988, 1989 and 1990. In 1991, it is being conducted for a 12-month period.
Reporting in the November issue of the state health department's Communicable Diseases Bulletin, the AIDS Administration said the survey annually is detecting between 250 and 300 potentially new cases of HIV infection among mothers.
"If 20 to 35 percent of the infected women's newborns are also infected, every year approximately 60 to 100 newborns are added to the pool of infected babies who may eventually develop AIDS," the study said.
The report shows an ongoing "significant difference" in infection levels between white and non-white childbearing women. In 1990, the rate of HIV-infected white women was 5 for each 10,000, compared with 93 for each 10,000 for non-white women.
The figures also show that non-white women are 17 times more likely to become HIV infected than white women.
The levels of HIV infection observed in mothers are consistent with trends noted in reported AIDS cases in Maryland, the report said.
Recent AIDS case data "clearly demonstrate," the report said, that in Maryland, the number of new AIDS cases is increasing most rapidly among black women of childbearing age. The 1990 AIDS case rates are 14 times higher in black women than in white women, and since 1989, AIDS case rates in black women have exceeded those in white men.
The AIDS Administration stressed that women should be counseled and offered HIV testing before pregnancy so that they might make informed reproductive decisions.
Also, certain pregnant women should be strongly encouraged to be tested, the AIDS specialists said. These are pregnant women who have not been in a mutually monogamous relationship for the last five years and who live in or near a major metropolitan area. If they are found to be infected, both their condition and that of their babies can be monitored more closely.
The state health department has set up 52 HIV counseling and testing sites at which women can obtain an HIV antibody test at no charge and, in some cases, anonymously. Call (410) 225-5018 for sites in your area.