5 steps to reduce HIV and AIDS risk in young people - Primary Health

5 steps to reduce HIV and AIDS risk in young people

  • April 10, 2024

  • Adi Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP

  • 3 minutes

HIV in youth

On National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, we highlight HIV’s impact on youth and ways to keep them healthy.

National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), observed each year on April 10, marks an important occasion to highlight the impact of HIV on young people. Around one in five new HIV infections in the United States happen in someone between the ages of 13 and 24. Furthermore, around half the population in that age group with HIV does not know of their HIV status.

There are several reasons why this population can be at a higher risk for HIV. First, adolescents in particular are susceptible to infections as they start exploring sexual relationships with others. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that in the decade between 2011 and 2021, high school students had less risky sex. It also showed fewer were sexually active overall, with only 30 percent reporting ever having sex in 2021 (down from 47 percent in 2011). 

Given this data, it would seem like rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should be declining. However, that is far from what we observe. One explanation is that the rate of condom usage has actually declined in that same period from 60 to 52 percent, a second reason for youth being at higher risk for HIV. 

And finally, another risk for acquiring HIV infection is substance use, which young adults also frequently encounter.

Key steps to lower HIV infection risk

So what steps can young adults take to lower their risk for getting HIV infection? The first step as always is getting to know your HIV status. Fortunately, testing for HIV has never been easier. With the widespread availability of home-based testing, it is easy to get tested within the comfort of your home. And if you are a high school or higher education administrator, the same testing can be easily made available to your students at risk. 

The second step is increasing awareness around the importance of condom usage and regular testing to prevent infections. Third, increasing access to pre-exposure prophylaxis against HIV (PrEP) for our youth can curb HIV infections in this age group. And fourth, make access to substance use care more widespread and destigmatized. 

And finally, we must also realize that not all youth are equally at risk for getting HIV. Students identifying as LGBTQ+ were twice as likely to have faced sexual violence as their heterosexual peers- and were also about twice as likely to engage in substance use. Reaching these key populations is critical to bringing down the rates of HIV infection in youth. Once again, easier access to HIV testing, PrEP, and substance use services can help in this endeavor.

To sum up, as we observe National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day this year, connect with us to hear about how our discreet and convenient testing and treatment solutions can help bring down the rates of HIV infection in our youth.

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.

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