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20% of HIV-Infected Youth were Unaware of Status

20% of HIV-Infected Youth were Unaware of Status

According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health, 20% of youth living with HIV in the United States are unaware of their HIV status. This finding highlights the urgent need for increased HIV testing and awareness efforts among young people.

The study analyzed data from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a survey conducted among high school students across the United States. Of the nearly 13,000 participants who responded to the survey, 128 reported being HIV-positive. Shockingly, 20% of these youth were unaware of their HIV status.

This gap in awareness is particularly concerning because early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing HIV and preventing its spread. Studies have shown that individuals who are aware of their HIV status are more likely to engage in safer sexual practices and to seek out treatment and care.

There are several reasons why young people may not get tested for HIV. Stigma and discrimination around HIV can create barriers to testing, as can a lack of access to testing facilities or information about testing options. Young people experiencing homelessness, or those living in poverty, are also at increased risk of being unaware of their HIV status.

It is crucial that we address these barriers and ensure that HIV testing and education are accessible to all youth, regardless of their race, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. This means increasing funding for education and prevention programs, providing free or low-cost testing, and addressing the stigma and misinformation that still surrounds HIV in our society.

There is reason to be hopeful, as recent advances in HIV treatment and prevention have revolutionized the way we approach this disease. The development of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has made it possible for people living with HIV to maintain healthy and productive lives, while pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission among sexually active individuals.

But despite these advances, there is still much work to be done to address the ongoing HIV epidemic, especially among young people. It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that everyone has access to the information, tools, and resources they need to protect themselves and their communities from HIV. Only by working together can we make progress in ending the HIV epidemic once and for all.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 20 percent of youth who were infected with HIV since they were born were unaware they were infected when they first became sexually active. The study also found that those youth who knew they were infected usually failed to tell their partner before becoming sexual activity, and some sexual activity did not involve condom use.

The NIH reports that physicians need to offer more counseling about healthy sexual activity to younger generations. A large percentage of physicians wait to inform a person of their HIV status until they are a teenager because they are more likely to handle the diagnosis emotionally. The American Academy of Pediatrics now wants health care providers to ask parents and caregivers when to discuss the diagnosis.

Rohan Hazra, M.D., states: “Our findings show that these young people act very much like their HIV-negative counterparts across the country. However, because of their HIV status, it is extremely important for health care providers, school counselors and family members to reinforce the importance of practicing safe sex, taking the medication regularly, and disclosing HIV status to potential partners.” Hazra is with the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National NICHD.

About 10,000 people are living with HIV in the United States and acquired the disease at or after birth. Participants of the study were an average age of 14 when they had their first sexual experience, and one-third of the participants said they did not disclose their HIV status to their partner. 62 percent of the participants also admitted that they performed at least one sexual act without a condom.

Susannah Allison, Ph.D., with the Infant, Child and Adolescent HIV Prevention Program at NIMH, stated: “As more HIV-positive infants survive childhood and become sexually active teens, it becomes increasingly important to emphasize how healthy behaviors can protect these teens, as well as their partners.”

Source: National Institutes of Health