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The Epidemic: Adolescents at risk of HIV/AIDS

June 30, 2012

Increased public awareness and advancements in medicine over the past three decades have led to remarkable strides in preventing the spread of HIV and improving the quality of life of those living with HIV or AIDS in the U.S. For instance, because of better screening and access to medication, there are far fewer cases of HIV-positive pregnant women transferring the virus to their newborn babies. Fewer than 100 infants were born with HIV last year, compared to more than 900 in 1992.1 This and other areas of progress are worth celebrating–yet major challenges remain in combating HIV and AIDS among all Americans.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States (NHAS), released in 2010, is the nation’s first-ever comprehensive and coordinated plan for guiding efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The first of four objectives of the NHAS is to reduce the number of individuals infected each year. A focus on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among adolescents must be a major part of the effort.

A Snapshot of HIV in Adolescence
Despite stable rates of HIV diagnosis in older populations, the rate of HIV diagnoses from 2006 to 2009 increased in teens 15-19 and youth 20-24 years of age, and was highest in the 20-24 year-old age group.2 Undiagnosed HIV cases are also thought to be highest among young people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than half of all undiagnosed HIV infections are youth ages 13 – 24.

  • Of adolescent HIV diagnoses, almost 70 percent are to black teens, even though they constitute a much smaller proportion of the adolescent population in the U.S.  
  • Almost 80 percent of all adolescent infections are to males. Nine out of 10 adolescent male HIV infections result from male-to-male sexual contact. The same proportion of adolescent females is infected from heterosexual contact.
  • The highest concentrations of HIV diagnoses among adolescents are in the Southeastern United States and, specifically, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

Although HIV testing is widely available, self-reported rates of HIV testing have remained flat in recent years. Forty-six percent of high school students have had sex at least once, yet only 13 percent report ever having had an HIV test.

  • Did you know? Although 13-19 year-olds represented only 4.8% of new HIV diagnoses, it is likely that many young adults – those between age 20-30 – may have become infected with HIV during their teen years.

Read more at the HHS Office of Adolescent Health website.

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