AIDS among women steadily rising


AIDS cases among Maryland women are rising steadily, particularly among intravenous drug users, according to preliminary figures from the state AIDS Administration.

Overall, 655 AIDS cases were reported in Maryland during 1990. But Dr. Audrey Rogers, chief epidemiologist for the state AIDS Administration, said the final figure probably will match or

exceed last year's total of 761 when doctors finish reporting.

Women accounted for 19 percent of the 1990 cases. Since th government began keeping AIDS records in 1981, 459 women have been diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in Maryland. But 126 of those cases were reported in 1990 alone.

"It's true that 27 percent of the cases of AIDS in women in Maryland occurred in 1990, but it's not that we had an explosion of cases in 1990," Rogers said.

"If you looked at the numbers of cases in women, year to year to year, that has been a slowly, but steadily increasing proportion. We're not inconsistent with what's happening across the country."

AIDS is a disease that destroys the victim's immune system, leaving the body open to powerful infections and cancers that kill.

Although national figures are not yet complete, The federal Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than 15,000 women died from the fatal disease last year. By the end of 1991, AIDS is expected to be the fifth leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 44.

The World Health Organization estimates that, by the end of 1991, 500,000 people worldwide will be diagnosed with AIDS. Forty percent of them will be women.

Although reports of the disease originally surfaced among white male homosexuals, AIDS has emerged as a major threat to black Americans. In Maryland, 70 percent of last year's AIDS cases involved blacks.

Since the start of the epidemic in 1981, 72 percent of female

AIDS victims here have been black, including 80 percent of last year's victims. This reflects national figures.

More than 60 percent of the last year's AIDS cases among black women are attributed to intravenous drug use, compared with 40 percent among white women, the report showed. White women are more likely to contract AIDS through sexual contact or transfusions. CDC experts say this reflects poverty, inadequate medical care and drug use among black women, rather than racial factors.

The report also shows that the incidence of AIDS transmission through sexual contact has been rising among white and black women, although drug use is still the chief culprit.

The Maryland report lists six newly diagnosed cases of AIDS in children under age 13 last year, and 69 cases since 1981. But Rogers said she believes the actual number would be larger if all doctors reported these cases.

Public health officials have estimated that for every child that has AIDS, two to 10 may be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the disease.

Since 1981, 3,174 Marylanders have been struck by AIDS, Of those, 1,984 have died and 1,190 are living with the disease. Nationally, more than 161,073 Americans were afflicted between and 1990. Of those, 100,777 have died.

With 358 reported cases of AIDS, Baltimore accounted for more than half the state's 1990 total. Prince George's County reported 113 cases, followed by Montgomery County with 55 cases, Baltimore County with 37 cases and Anne Arundel County with 20 cases.

The disease continues to strike men and women in the prime of their lives. Slightly more than 43 percent of the total cases since 1981 have struck people between 30 and 39 years of age. But the AIDS virus can be present for years before it's detected.

"That age group has consistently been the one in which we see most of the cases," Rogers said. "But, again, I think you have to keep in mind that, with the incubation period of this particular disease, people who get diagnosed in their 30s tend to be infected in their 20s.

"And, the longer we look at it, the longer the incubation period can be for certain subgroups, so we may even have teen-agers who may get infected but then not show signs of illness until they get into their 30s."

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