Teens have reduced their risks for HIV
American kids are mostly doing a better job of protecting themselves from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In particular, black high school students have dramatically reduced sexual behaviors that can lead to HIV infection over the past 20 years.
"This is good news, but we still have more work to do," says Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, speaking at AIDS 2012, an international conference of more than 21,000 researchers and organizers meeting this week in Washington. "The heavy burden of HIV in the United States is neither inevitable, nor is it acceptable."
Among the key changes from 1991 to 2011:
The proportion of American high school students who have ever had sex fell from 54% to 47%. Among blacks, the proportion who have ever had sex fell even more sharply, from 82% to 60%.
The proportion of students who had sex within the past three months declined from 38% to 34% overall. Among blacks, that number fell from 59% to 41%.
Among sexually active students, the proportion who used a condom the last time they had sex increased from 46% to 60%. Among black students, that rate grew from 48% to 65%.
Though the trends are positive, the report notes that most of the improvements were achieved by 2001 or 2003, with few gains since then.
Significantly, the number of new HIV infections -- which has fallen sharply from the peak in the mid-1990s -- also has hit a plateau over the past decade, at about 50,000 a year, Fenton says.
Meanwhile, the average age at which teens begin having sex -- 16 -- hasn't changed in 20 years, the CDC's Laura Kann says.
HIV rates are skyrocketing among specific populations, such as gay black youth, according to other research presented at the conference. Nearly 6% of gay black men under 30 are newly infected with the AIDS virus each year, according to a study presented Monday, with one in four black gay men infected by age 25.
"That is unconscionable," Fenton says.
The CDC closely tracks teen sexual behavior, using its National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial survey of students in grades 9 to 12. That's important, Fenton says, because 40% of new HIV infections are in those under 30, and 19,000 Americans that age become infected each year.
"The U.S. AIDS epidemic is largely a young person's epidemic," Fenton says. "They will face a lifetime of medical treatment, emotional issues and health care costs."
New CDC efforts to fight HIV include increased testing and studies of ways to engage community groups, such as churches and families, to reduce stigma and support gay teens.
"You can't change everybody," Fenton says. "But you can work with people who are ready."
In an interview, Jeanne White, the mother of the late teenage AIDS activist Ryan White -- an early voice for compassion for people with the disease -- urged the country to do more for its young people. On one hand, she says, she celebrates the progress made since 1984, when her son, a hemophiliac infected through contaminated blood, learned he had the AIDS virus.
The country's progress in nearly eradicating mother-to-child HIV transmission "is a blessing for those children," White says. "But now we have to do something for our teenagers."
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PUBDATE = 07/25/2012
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