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Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which damages or kills the cells that are responsible for fighting infection. An AIDS diagnosis is received when an HIV infection becomes advanced and meets certain criteria determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). AIDS was first reported in 1981 and, during the following decade, was primarily diagnosed in men who had sex with men, but the disease has since become more prevalent among women. In 1988, 7,504 AIDS cases were reported among men compared to 524 cases among women. In 2004, the number of cases among women had grown to 11,442, an increase of over 2,000 percent. In 1993, the CDC expanded the criteria for AIDS cases to include persons with severe immunosuppression, pulmonary tuberculosis, recurrent pneumonia, and invasive cervical cancer. This change is partially responsible for the greatly increased number of reported AIDS cases among women.

Non-Hispanic Black women are disproportionately affected by AIDS. In 2004, 7,586 non-Hispanic Black women were diagnosed with AIDS, compared to 1,972 non-Hispanic White women and 2,084 Hispanic women. Overall, 44 percent of cases among women were attributable to heterosexual contact, while 20 percent were due to injection drug use, and 1 percent were due to a coagulation disorder or receipt of blood/blood components; the remaining 35 percent were of other or unknown cause. Over the past decade, the numbers of women being diagnosed with AIDS and the number of deaths among women with AIDS has increased only slightly, while the number of women living with AIDS has increased dramatically, due in large part to recent advances in antiretroviral therapy.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.