Young Americans Continue To Put Themselves At Risk For HIV Virus, CDC Warns

Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 aren’t getting regularly tested for the HIV virus, even though rates of infection are growing among that demographic, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control finds.

Even though recent gains in HIV treatment and prevention, both here in the U.S. and around the world, have made huge strides in combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic — so much so that United Nations officials recently declared they believe an end to the epidemic is in sight — the CDC warns that young Americans still need to be more aware of their risk. Young people from 13 to 24 years old contribute to more than a quarter of the country’s new HIV infections each year, but half of HIV-positive individuals between 13 and 24 years old aren’t even aware they have the virus:

Despite a shift in public health messaging to emphasize that early detection and treatment can help HIV-positive individuals stay healthy and reduce the spread of the virus, young Americans aren’t getting the message.

The CDC found that only about a third of those ages 17 to 24 had been tested for HIV in 2010, while just 13 percent of high school students were tested in 2011. That lack of testing is part of the reason those younger than 25 are less likely to seek treatment for HIV, which can also reduce the risk that they transmit it.

“Too few young people are getting tested for HIV,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said on a conference call with reporters outlining the findings before World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

CDC officials also confirmed that the HIV epidemic continues to be stratified along racial lines, since African-American males are still at the greatest risk for contracting the virus. The rate of HIV infection among black Americans is nearly eight times than the rate for white Americans, and black youth account for nearly 60 percent of all new infections among Americans between 13 and 24.

The CDC report recommends increasing education programs for youth that emphasize HIV prevention, a discrepancy that is currently furthered by abstinence-only curricula in schools across the country. Just 20 states mandate that public schools must provide both HIV education and sexual education in their health classes, and only 12 states have standards in place to require medically accurate information about HIV in the classrooms.