WASHINGTON - Women and minority men are more likely than white
men to delay seeking treatment for AIDS, and they tend to
receive less effective care for the deadly disease, according
to a new study.
Researchers from UC-San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University
in Baltimore found that a larger proportion of women and
minorities than white men sought treatment for HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS, after their immune system had already broken
Dr. Paul Volberding, professor of medicine at UC-San Francisco,
said poorer patients tended to put off treatment to avoid early
medical costs until they began experiencing symptoms.
Women and minorities infected with HIV are generally poorer
than infected white men.
"Early in the disease, there's almost no physical change to the
body," Volberding said. "Patients mistakenly believe that just
because they seem healthy, they don't need to be treated right
According to the study, released Wednesday, 36 percent of
women, 42 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos waited
until their T-cell counts had dipped below 500 to seek
treatment, while only 27 percent of white men waited that long.
T-cells are white blood cells that protect the body against
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends
treating AIDS patients before their T-cell count dips below
500, but many of the patients who delayed treatment had T-cells
below the recommended level. Healthy people have more than
1,000 T-cells per 1 milliliter of blood.
The study did not examine the causes for the disparity, but
researchers suggested that economics probably played a large
role in the difference in the quality of AIDS treatment that
In order to slow the breakdown of the immune system, Volberding
said a patient should seek treatment immediately after being
diagnosed with HIV.
The study also found that 76 percent of women, 68 percent of
blacks and 65 percent of Hispanics infected with HIV sought
care from physicians who did not specialize in AIDS treatment,
compared with 54 percent of white men who did.
John Bartlett, chief of infectious diseases at the Johns
Hopkins medical school, said physicians with little experience
in AIDS treatment tended to offer their patients "second-best"
The Health and Human Services Department recommends fighting
HIV with at least three different types of medicine to slow the
virus in its attack of the immune system. But some doctors in
the survey said they had prescribed only one.
"The disparity in the treatment of HIV, especially for
particular populations, signals an urgent need to educate
physicians and patients more aggressively," Volberding said.
Volberding said delayed treatment could lead to earlier death
because the disease became harder to treat once it developed
into full-blown AIDS and the immune system started breaking
down. There is no cure for AIDS.