In the United States, women comprise the fastest-growing population of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases. By mid-1996, the reported number of U.S. AIDS cases among women was 78,654, up from 51,235 in 1991.
African American women account for 55% of all female adult/adolescent AIDS cases with 23.7% for White and 20.3% for Hispanic women. Human immunodeficiency virus infection (HTV) among childbearing women between ages 13 and 49 years represents 93% of all U.S. female HTV infection cases.
Mother-to-child (perinatal) transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HTV) accounts for 6,586 (90%) pediatric AIDS cases. Although no data about mothers is available, general information may be inferred from the statistics on perinatally infected children. For example, 57.6% of these children are African Americans, 23% Hispanics, and 18% White. Nearly 60% have mothers involved with injection drug use or sexual contact with an injection drug user. For almost 25% of the mothers, no risk factor for HTV was reported. However, of all women with AIDS (not only mothers) who initially reported unknown risk, but 93% were also ultimately found to be infected through sexual contact or injection drug use.
Therefore, it is likely that maternal risk factors associated with sexual behavior or drugs are actually greater than reported. There are 6,586 pediatric AIDS cases and it is estimated that there are 15,000-20,000 more children with HTV infection. With advancements in diagnosis, treatment, and disease management, both adults and children with HIV infection and AIDS live longer, although they may not ultimately survive. Their increased survival has placed HIV infection among the major life-threatening chronic illnesses being managed by families.
Many families have had (or will have) the experience of caring for a chronically Ql family member due to changing health care practices and longer life spans. It is likely that the HIV-infected mother and child family will demonstrate some of the same characteristics as other families with chronic illnesses. However, it is important to recognize the unique factors of HIV disease that may affect these families.