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A diagnosis of HIV infection evoked strong and long lasting emotional reactions in women

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Q How do women respond to being diagnosed with HIV infection?


Longitudinal qualitative study using a feminist narrative approach.


Community based study in Wisconsin, USA.


55 women ⩾18 years of age (mean age 41 y, range 23–54 y) who reported being infected with HIV (mean 7 y since diagnosis, range 1–21 y). 53% of women were African-American, 36% were white, 7% were Hispanic, and 4% were American Indian. Most of the women were poor, and many had a history of homelessness or drug abuse.


Each woman participated in up to 10 tape recorded interviews (about 2 h each) over a 2 year period in a private setting of her choosing. Open ended questions were posed to encourage the women to recount the events of their HIV infection diagnosis and the meaning of those events in their lives. Interviews were transcribed and imported into a computer programme for qualitative research. Within-case and across-case analyses were done to identify patterns of events, behaviours, and emotions related to HIV diagnosis.


Why women were tested for HIV. At the time of testing, most women did not suspect that …

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  • For correspondence: Dr P E Stevens, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, Milwaukee, WI, USA. pstevens{at}

  • Sources of funding: National Institute of Nursing Research and National Institute of Drug Abuse.