Health Nation — 28 November 2012

The HIV rate among American teenagers and young adults is rising, and more than half of those who are infected are not even aware of it, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010, about one in four (25.7%) of the estimated 47,500 Americans newly infected with HIV were between 13 to 24 years old. Nearly 60% didn’t know they had the HIV virus, the CDC reported in a Vital Signs article.

Because they don’t know they are infected, they don’t receive treatment. And that, says the report, puts them at greater risk for sickness and early death, along with the possibility of unknowingly passing on HIV to others.

“Given everything we know about HIV and how to prevent it in 30 years of fighting the disease, it’s just unacceptable that young people are becoming infected at such high rates,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. “This is our future generation, and the bottom line is that every month, 1,000 youth are becoming infected with HIV.”

One problem the CDC found was that many young people are not being tested.  Only 13% of high school students and 22% of sexually active high school students have ever been tested for HIV. Among 18 to 24 year olds, only 35% say they’ve been tested.

States in dark grey have highest rates of HIV infection. State in white have lowest rates. Graphic courtesy of CDC.

The HIV rate was 69.5 diagnosed infections for every 100,000 American young people.  But researchers found a wide disparity in state-by-state infection rates. HIV rates in southern and northeastern states were much higher than those in the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.

Over 57% of the new infections in young people were in African Americans, about 20% in Hispanics/Latinos, and about 20% in whites.

About 87% of young males got HIV from male to male sex, 6% from heterosexual sex, 2% from drug injections and about 5% from a combination of male-to-male sex and injection drug use.

High risk behavior was all too common among high school students who had male to male sex, according to the CDC. They were more likely than other males to have sexual intercourse with four or more persons; significantly more likely to have injected an illegal drug and less likely to have been taught in school about AIDS or HIV infection.

More importantly, they were also less likely to have used a condom during last their sexual intercourse than males having heterosexual contact (44% versus 70%).

Among females, nearly 86% of HIV infections were attributed to heterosexual contact and 13% to injection drug use.

Another part of the problem, the CDC reports, is that the homophobia and stigma surrounding AIDS drives away the very people who need help the most.

“We have to correct a lot of myths and misconceptions. It is astonishing the level of ignorance about basic physiology that may high school and middle school students have,” said Frieden. “If we are going to see a generation free of AIDS we are going to have to increase testing and expand access to behavior changing programs.”

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Richard Lenti

Richard Lenti has worked as a news writer for the last 20 years at various television stations in Los Angeles. He is a Golden Mike winner and a graduate of California State University, Fresno. With roots in print journalism, Richard is excited to be “published” once again; having people read his work as opposed to having it read to them. As a freelance writer his work has appeared in the Easy Reader, L.A. Jazz Scene, Irrigation and Green Industry, and the KCAL 9 Online website.

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