More U.S. women getting HIV through sex than drug use, U.S. officials say

July 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- For the first time since the start of the AIDS epidemic, more American women were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus through sexual transmission than through intravenous drug use, federal health officials report.

Though not unexpected, the trend indicates the continuing spread of the disease beyond primary risk groups, such as homosexual men and intravenous drug users, and toward more mainstream populations, health officials said yesterday.

"This is a signal that this movement is occurring, and we shouldn't be complacent," said Dr. John Ward, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV/AIDS surveillance branch. "Heterosexual transmission is becoming more common, and this is a reflection of what the data are telling us."

Most of the women were one step removed from HIV exposure through drug use. While they did not inject drugs themselves, they had sexual contact with someone who did, meaning that heterosexual transmission among women remains greatest in communities with high rates of intravenous drug use, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports for 1992 -- the latest year for which complete statistics were available.

"More than half of the women who acquired the infection through heterosexual contact reported having sex with an injecting drug user," Dr. Ward said.

Overall, new AIDS cases in the United States increased 3.5 percent in 1992, with 47,095 cases reported, compared with 45,499 in 1991, CDC said.

As in previous years, the majority of cases -- nearly 51 percent -- were among homosexual and bisexual men, although the number of cases in that group decreased during 1992, continuing a trend begun the year before, CDC said.

But women accounted for the biggest rise in new cases, recording an increase of 9.8 percent last year, compared with a 2.5 percent increase among males. There were 6,642 new cases reported among females and 40,453 new cases among males, the Atlanta-based agency said.

Women still make up about 15 percent of the total caseload.

The CDC report "underscores the tremendous need for highly specific education aimed at sexually active women," said David Kirby of the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

Surveys among the general heterosexual population have "found low rates of condom use for persons with multiple partners and for persons with partners at risk for HIV infection, indicating that behavioral changes sufficient to decrease HIV transmission may not yet have occurred," the CDC said.

AIDS cases attributable to intravenous drug use were about 25 percent of all cases last year, a slight increase over the previous year.

One serious consequence of growing infections among women was an increase of transmission of HIV to their offspring, the CDC said.

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