"A lot of the studies of HIV have been with gay men," Dr. Solomon said. "But HIV has really moved into the women's community in recent years, and women are clearly different from men. The research from men doesn't tell us what HIV will be like in women."
Doctors have anecdotal evidence, for example, that women with HIV tend to suffer repeated genital tract infections, such as yeast infections, she said. Additionally, there are indications that various cervical diseases, including cancer and precancerous changes in the cells, may be more prevalent in HIV-positive women.
"AIDS is a different disease in women," said Dr. Rodriguez-Trias, a former medical director of the New York state AIDS agency and a board member of the National Women's Health Network.
She cites a paper presented earlier this summer at the international AIDS conference in Amsterdam that showed that less than half of women who were HIV-infected and died fit the current diagnostic profile of AIDS -- which is based largely on how the disease affects men.
The Centers for Disease Control is also looking at the issue: At a conference next month in Atlanta, AIDS professionals discuss the current "case definition" of AIDS and whether it needs to be altered to reflect the different symptoms women may experience.
In the past, the interest in women when it came to AIDS generally fell into two categories, both of which focused on women as transmitters of the virus rather that recipients of it, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias said.
"Because HIV is transmitted mother to child, most of the interest in women when it came to policy and programs was on the child. Women themselves weren't the focus," she said. "The other group of women that got attention were sex workers, because they were giving it to men."
That focus has ignored the larger reality, AIDS professionals said.
"Women are predominantly acquiring this infection from either drug abuse on their own or their partners' drug abuse," Ms. Cromwell said. "It's not from multiple sex partners. Until we're able to control drug abuse, we're not going to be able to control HIV."
The women who have "come out" as HIV-infected tend not to reflect this: Ms. Glaser, the wife of "Starsky and Hutch" actor Paul Michael Glaser, for example, and Ms. Getty contracted the virus from blood transfusions; Ms. Fisher, a wealthy Florida woman whose family has contributed to Republican campaigns, from her husband; Tina Chow, the late style-setter and jewelry designer, from a heterosexual affair; and Kimberly Bergalis, the young Floridawoman, during a dental procedure.
"I do have to commend those women for coming forward. They are affecting the consciousness," Ms. Rouse said.
"I think each woman who comes forward does an enormous service," Dr. Solomon said. "But we as a society need to be as compassionate to the drug user who gets this virus as to women who get it through a transfusion or from their husbands."
Women, however, are less likely to be open about their HIV status because the stigma is perhaps greater for them than men, she and others said. As tennis star Martina Navratilova noted when Magic Johnson, who attributed his contraction of HIV to a promiscuous heterosexual lifestyle, received an outpouring of sympathy, how would the public have felt about a woman who got the virus that way?
"Many of the women I care for have children, and they want to protect them from the stigma," Ms. Cromwell said. "They worry, 'Is it going to get out in the neighborhood that I have AIDS?' "