About HIV Infection in Young People

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012, about 1 in every 4 new HIV infections in the United States each year occur in young people 13–24 years of age. And just as alarming: About 60 percent of young people infected with HIV don't know they carry the virus and may unknowingly infect other people.

HIV Risk in Young People

In some populations—certain groups and communities with high rates of HIV infection—young people are at increased risk simply because their potential sexual partners are more likely to have HIV. Social and economic factors that increase HIV risk include high poverty levels, limited access to adequate housing and health care and high rates of racial discrimination and/or incarceration. African Americans have higher rates of HIV infection than other races or ethnic groups, and bisexual and gay men are 40 times more likely to be infected with HIV than heterosexual men.

The CDC reports that about 8 percent of young men are infected with HIV through homosexual activity, 6 percent through heterosexual activity, 2 percent through injection drug use, and 5 percent through the combination of drug use and homosexual activity. In young women, about 86 percent are infected through heterosexual activity and 13 percent through injection drug use. Bisexual and gay young men—especially those with older partners—are at high risk because their partner is more likely to have HIV.

Factors that increase HIV risk in young people include the following:

  • Lack of knowledge about how HIV is transmitted
  • Being sexually active, especially while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Having multiple sexual partners, especially older partners (more likely to have HIV)
  • Having unprotected sex (failing to use a condom correctly every time)
  • Not getting tested for HIV (or receiving proper treatment if infected)
  • Injecting illicit drugs

HIV Education for Young People

It's important for young people to understand how HIV is transmitted and how to reduce their risk. This takes a coordinated effort by parents, families, schools, community organizations and others—beginning at an early age. HIV prevention education should be age-appropriate and should teach young people how to delay having sex, how to practice safer sex, and how to avoid high-risk behaviors.

Confidential HIV testing plays an important role in reducing HIV infection in young people. The CDC and other health organizations recommend that bisexual and gay men who are sexually active get tested for HIV at least once every year, and suggest that people who are at high riskthose who have unprotected sex, have multiple partners, or use injected drugs—get tested more frequently. Youths between the ages of 13 and 24 who are sexually active should be tested for HIV at least once as a part of routine health care. Through regular HIV testing, young people who are uninfected can take steps to remain so, and those who have HIV can get the prompt medical care necessary to help them live longer, healthier lives and can take steps to prevent infecting others.

Ways to avoid, or reduce your risk for, HIV infection:

  • Do not have sex or inject drugs
  • Limit your sexual partners
  • Do not have older sexual partners (more likely to be HIV-positive)
  • Practice safer sex, including using a condom correctly, every time

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 29 Nov 2012

Last Modified: 19 May 2014