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National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Three women smilingNational Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is observed on March 10 to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves and their partners from HIV by getting tested, using condoms, and checking with their health care provider about medicines that prevent and treat HIV.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a time each year when organizations and communities across the country come together to help women and girls take action to protect themselves and their partners from HIV—through prevention, testing, and treatment. The observance is sponsored by the Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HIV Among Women and Girls

In 2010, women and adolescent girls (aged 13 years and older) made up about one in four of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States. Most of these infections (75%) were from sex with men, and the rest were from injection drug use.*

Black/African American** and Hispanic/Latino women are more affected by HIV at all stages of the disease than white women. Despite an encouraging decrease in new HIV infections among black women (21% between 2008 and 2010), 1 in 32 black women will be infected with HIV in their lifetimes (if current trends continue). One in 106 Hispanic/Latino women and 1 in 526 white women will be infected with HIV.

Many women who have been diagnosed with HIV are not getting the care they need. Only half of women who were diagnosed with HIV in 2009 were staying in care in 2010, according to a study of 19 areas in the United States, and less than half (4 in 10) had viral suppression. Viral suppression means that the level of virus in a person's blood is low enough to help her or him stay healthy. Viral suppression also leads to a greatly reduced chance of spreading the virus to others.

* A small number of women who are living with HIV were born with it because their mothers were infected.

** Referred to as black in this feature.

What Puts Women and Girls at Risk?

  • Some women may be unaware of their partner's risk factors for HIV (such as injection drug use or having sex with other men) and may not use condoms. In some cases, women may be afraid that their partner will leave them or even physically abuse them if they try to talk about condom use.
  • Vaginal sex without a condom carries a much higher HIV risk for women than for men, and anal sex without a condom is riskier for women than vaginal sex without a condom. More than one in five young women in one survey reported anal sex in the past year.
  • Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) greatly increase a woman's chance of getting or spreading HIV.
  • Exchanging sex for drugs, having multiple partners, or having sex with a partner who is physically abusive when asked to use a condom all increase risk of HIV.
  • Some HIV infections among women are due to injection drug and other substance use—either directly (by sharing drug injection equipment contaminated with HIV) or indirectly (by engaging in high-risk behaviors while under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
  • A higher percentage of African American and Hispanic/Latino women are living with HIV compared to other races/ethnicities. This coupled with the fact that women tend to have sex with partners of their same race/ethnicity increases the risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.

What Can Women Do?

  • Get tested for HIV. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), visit hivtest.cdc.gov, or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948). You can also use a home testing kit.
  • Choose not to have sex or choose to have sex with one partner and agree to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for HIV, and share your test results with one another before you make the decision to have sex.
  • If you currently have more than one partner, make the choice to limit the number of people you have sex with. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to have sex with someone who is infected with HIV or another STI.
  • Use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Anal and vaginal sex are the highest-risk sexual activities for HIV transmission. Oral sex carries much less risk.
  • Get tested and treated for STIs and insist that your partners do too. Having an STI increases the risk of getting or spreading HIV.
  • Talk to your doctor about HIV medicine to prevent HIV infection (known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) if you routinely have sex without a condom with someone who may be HIV-positive.
  • See a doctor right away (within 3 days) if you have a single experience of sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive. Starting medicine immediately (known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) and taking it for about a month reduces the chance of getting HIV.
  • Do not share injection drug equipment, such as needles, syringes, or works.
  • If you are HIV-positive, start treatment as soon as possible with antiretroviral therapy (ART), and stay on treatment. ART can lower the level of virus in your body enough to improve your health and prevent you from spreading HIV to your partners.

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