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Ann Intern Med. 2002 Feb 5;136(3):228-42.

Evaluation and management of HIV-infected women.

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Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.


The rate of newly diagnosed AIDS in the United States is increasing fastest in women, who are infected with HIV primarily through heterosexual transmission. Approximately 60% of these women are African American, and 18% are Latina. A gynecologic infection is the most common symptom that leads to initial medical evaluation. Specific studies at baseline should include CD4 lymphocyte count, HIV-1 RNA level, and gynecologic examination with Papanicolaou smear. Decisions about initiation of antiretroviral therapy depend on the patient's clinical diagnoses, her willingness to adhere to treatment, and CD4 lymphocyte and HIV-1 RNA levels. Levels of HIV-1 RNA may be somewhat lower in women than in men at the same CD4 count, whereas women have higher CD4 lymphocyte counts at the time of AIDS diagnosis. However, prospective trials have not yet indicated the need to change the threshold CD4 lymphocyte counts or HIV-RNA levels for initiation of therapy in women. The efficacy of antiretroviral therapy appears to be similar in men and women, although women are more likely to experience toxicities. Abnormal Papanicolaou smears occur in approximately 40% of women at baseline, and 58% are infected with human papillomavirus. The prevalence of both conditions increases with lower CD4 lymphocyte counts and higher HIV-1 RNA levels. Precursor lesions to cervical cancer may be effectively treated, but almost 50% recur within 1 year, mandating careful follow-up. Referral should be sought for specialized gynecologic care and for issues related to HIV itself, since survival is prolonged in patients treated by physicians who are experienced in treating HIV. When they are provided the same access to care, HIV-infected women have similar prognoses as HIV-infected men.

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