Since the deadly AIDS virus was first identified in 1983, the disease in North America has largely afflicted intravenous drug users and homosexuals, while leaving the rest of the population relatively unscathed. But changes in patterns have been reported recently in the epidemic. While the incidence of AIDS among North American homosexuals has shown signs of declining,
statistics in the United States have indicated an increasing rate of infection among teenagers. Then, last week in Canada, statistics showed that in several parts of the country there has been an increase in the number of women testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS. Reports from clinics in Ontario and British Columbia showed that about 10 per cent of those testing positive for the virus were women. Some officials argued that, for various technical reasons, the numbers might be less alarming than they appeared. But others said that the statistics should be seen as a warning. Said Dr. Robert Remis, an epidemiologist at Montreal General Hospital: “This is suggestive and supportive evidence of an increasing incidence of HIV infection among women.”
Part of that apparent increase may be a result of the recent growth in the number of Canadians seeking AIDS tests. According to Carol Major, who is in charge of the Ontario health ministry’s HIV laboratory in Toronto, AIDS testing in Ontario more than doubled after U.S. basketball star Magic Johnson announced in the fall that he had become HIV positive through heterosexual affairs. Ministry officials said that of 32,000 women tested between Nov. 1,1991, and the end of April, 1992, 78 were HIV positive, while out of 35,000 men tested, 730 were positive. In fact, almost 10 per cent of patients testing positive in Ontario were women, compared with only 1.3 per cent of those tested in the province in 1985, the first full year of testing for HIV in Canada.
Officials in British Columbia reported a similar increase. In 1986, about three per cent of people testing positive in the province were women; during the past year, the number rose to more than 10 per cent. In Alberta last year, the number of women among those who tested positive increased to 5.7 per cent, up from 2.6 per cent in 1988. In July, Newfoundland officials announced that a survey of 5,200 pregnant women showed that six were HIV positive, a rate of infecti tion that is about four times higher I than in British Columbia and Ontario.
Public health officials said, while the S apparent rate of the increase of infec1 tion among women was cause for con“ cem, it was difficult to draw many immediate conclusions. They noted that, because HIV can be present for as long as 10 years before full-blown AIDS develops, the figures do not show a sudden, massive infection of women. But among those of the almost 1,200 positive-testing women in Ontario and British Columbia who also provided information about themselves, the majority appeared to have contracted the virus through heterosexual activities. Said Michael Rekart, director of British Columbia’s sexually transmitted disease program: “The numbers lend credence to the argument that women are at risk and that they need attention and support.” Experts say that women are not ever likely to be at as high a risk as homosexual men. Still, the numbers are a reminder that no one can afford to be complacent about the deadly virus.
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