Associated Press

May 5, 1997

New Data Tracks HIV-Infected Women

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- While AIDS deaths are increasing for women as they fall for men, women's infections are often missed as the disease follows a different course, according to new research presented Monday.

Women's HIV often is missed because doctors aren't recognizing that vaginal infections, yeast infections of the mouth and throat and cervical cancer are part of the disease.

A Chicago consortium found illness-causing cytomegalovirus active in blood and secretions well before women with HIV progress to AIDS. The research found cytomegalovirus was the root cause of vaginal infections in 41 percent of the women tested.

Also at the third National Conference on Women & HIV, a University of Southern California team announced that it had detected unusual types of breast cancer in young HIV-infected women, including rare metaplastic carcinoma.

Although breast cancer rates haven't yet increased in women with HIV, other AIDS-defining cancers are on the rise, such as melanoma, multiple myeloma and anal cancer, said Dr. Alexandra Levine, leader of USC's research team and director of the university's Norris Cancer Center.

And with antiviral AIDS drugs leaving the immune system of HIV-infected women ``not quite normal, we may be seeing ever-increasing epidemics of cancer,'' Levine predicted.

While the rate of AIDS deaths in men declined 15 percent in the first six months of last year, the rate for women increased 3 percent, according to figures at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

AIDS is the third-leading killer of American women ages 25-44 and the No. 1 killer of African-American women that age. Women constitute the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population to become HIV-infected.

``AIDS-related cancers tend to be more aggressive than cancers in non-HIV positive women,'' Dr. Janet Blair of the Los Angeles County health department told reporters.

While men survive about 23 months with Kaposi's sarcoma -- the first malignancy recognized with AIDS -- women survive just nine months, she said.

The difference ``may reflect delayed access to medical care,'' or doctors' lack of recognition, she said.

The breast cancer and CMV results were among the first presented from the Women's Interagency HIV Study, known as WIHS, begun in 1992 and funded by the National Institutes of Health in Washington.

The four-day conference drew more than 1,500 scientists, infected women and health policy experts. More than 120 HIV-infected activists interrupted a news conference to demand a national plan to address the unique problems of women, including African-Americans and Hispanics.

``What is the government doing for me? Where is the plan and the funding to save my life?'' asked Jeannine M. Scott, a mother of three from Philadelphia.

The women also bemoaned the state of women's access to cutting edge treatments, which effectively makes it easier for them to get AZT to prevent transmission to their babies than to get drug treatment for themselves.