Individuals aged 13 to 24 years continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV in the United States, accounting for 22% of new diagnoses in 2014, according to the CDC.
AmfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, reported that individuals aged 15 to 24 years were the only age group to experience an increase in new infections between 2007 and 2010.
“This increase is attributable to young gay men, especially young gay men of color, whose rates of HIV increased 87% from 2005 to 2014,” Jennifer Sherwood, policy associate for amfAR, told Infectious Disease News.
Roughly 60% of all persons aged younger than 25 years living with HIV in the U.S. are unaware of their status compared with 14% of the overall HIV-positive population, according to amfAR. Moreover, data presented at the 2015 IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention showed that only 7% of HIV-positive youth are virally suppressed vs. 30% to 40% of adults, Sherwood said.
“Seven percent is very low, and it really signals our inability to keep youth living with HIV routinely engaged in care to the point where they can benefit from viral suppression,” she said. “It’s really disheartening that we have had so much progress in HIV, but we’re still missing a really critical piece of the puzzle, and that is our ability to reach young people — especially young gay and bisexual men.”
Sherwood said gaps in access and engagement to HIV care may be due to a number of barriers that youth face, including transportation, finances and confidentiality. Despite the need for increased HIV awareness in this population, the number of high school students learning about sex education and HIV are declining. AmfAR reported that the percentage of schools that educate students on these topics decreased from 92% in 1997 to 85% in 2013.
In addition, since the topics that are discussed in sex education are left to each states’ and school districts’ discretion, Sherwood said there is wide variation in what students learn. Many sex education programs, for example, may exclude information on sexual orientation and the types of sex that LGBT individuals have, even though young men who have sex with men (MSM) have the highest risk for HIV and account for 72% of infections among individuals under 25 years of age, according to amfAR.
“Even beyond that, you can have situations where it’s illegal to do a condom demonstration or to talk about HIV,” Sherwood said. “Even though we have the evidence showing that teaching about sexual health doesn’t increase the number of youth having sex, it just makes sex safer, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around that still impact local decision makers.”
To increase HIV awareness among youth and educate the public about the impact of HIV/AIDS in this population, Advocates for Youth and other partners have designated April 10 as National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The day also recognizes efforts carried out by young individuals who strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“The tone of this day feels a lot different than some of the other national awareness days, and I think that has a lot to do with the energy that youth have. They are great solution makers to issues that affect youth,” Sherwood said. “Youth are more likely to respond well and listen to their peers, so the push around National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is really to prioritize youth voices and bring forward the young champions of sexual health and HIV who have been working in the field, because they’re the ones that really have the potential to make the most impact.”
To mark the occasion of National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Sunday, April 10, Infectious Disease News has compiled a list of the top five stories covering HIV/AIDS in younger populations.
Opt-out testing at children’s hospitals increases HIV testing rate
Hospitalwide opt-out testing was successful at increasing the HIV testing rate among children aged 13 years and older at two U.S. children’s hospitals, according to data presented at the CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference.
Study results showed that 1 year after researchers implemented routine opt-out testing, there were 2,231 and 2,880 patients tested at each site, representing 16.8% and 25.2% of eligible patients, respectively. Read more.
Adolescents, young adults with HIV more likely to delay treatment
Nearly half of teenagers and young adults with HIV delay treatment until their disease has advanced, according to study findings published in a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics. Read more.
STI, HIV prevention efforts urged for teenage MSM
Men who have sex with men in their teens may be an underestimated at-risk group for sexually transmitted infections. Notably, those who used condoms less regularly had reported a higher median number of sexual partners within the past year. Read more.
Younger age at ART initiation led to longer viral suppression
Longer duration of viral suppression was associated with younger age at combination ART initiation among children with perinatal HIV. Median duration of virologic control from confirmed virologic suppression was 11.8 years for children who achieved virologic control before 1 year of age, 9.6 years for children who achieved virologic control between ages 1 to 5 years and 4.4 years among children who achieved virologic control after age 5 years. Read more.
Single strategy not enough to curb HIV risk in young MSM
Targeted, multilevel strategies are needed to reduce risk behaviors among young men who have sex with men living with HIV, particularly among those with a detectable viral load. Researchers said young MSM with a detectable viral load were more likely than virologically suppressed young MSM to report condomless anal intercourse (54.7% vs. 44.4%) as well as serodiscordant condomless anal intercourse (34.9% vs. 25%). Read more. – by Stephanie Viguers
amfAR. National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. http://www.amfar.org/national-youth-hiv-aids-awareness-day-2015/. Accessed April 8, 2016.
Kapogiannis BG, et al. WELBPE16. Presented at: IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. July 19-22, 2015; Vancouver, Canada.
Disclosure: Sherwood reports no relevant financial disclosures.