Sue Scheff: HIV Testing for Teens

teenhivYears ago, one of our biggest fears with pre-marital sex, was getting pregnant!  Today we still have that fear, but what is more concerning is the STD’s!  They can be death sentences in some cases.  Parents need to take the time to educate our teens today of the consequences of unprotected sex.  None of us like the idea of our teens having sex so young, but we need to face the reality if they do, they need to be protected.

Source: Connect with Kids

“Our evidence is that when people find out they’re infected with HIV, they cut down their risky behavior by more than two-thirds.”

– Bernard Branson, M.D., Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Does your 13-year-old need an HIV test?

“No, because she’s not sexually active,” says father Mark Alterio, “So I wouldn’t have her screened.”

“I’m a proponent of being more informed,” says mother Ingrid Emmons, “and I feel like if you’re more informed then we can get you the help that you need. So I’d rather know than not know.”

The American College of Physicians is now backing the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations to have everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 tested for HIV.

But why start so young?

“Our information, first of all, from recent surveys suggests that about 47-percent of teenagers, high school students, are sexually active,” says Dr. Bernard Branson, with the CDC’s division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 250-thousand Americans have HIV and don’t know it.

Experts say expanded testing could stop thousands from spreading the virus.

“Our evidence is that when people find out they’re infected with HIV,” says Dr. Branson, “they cut down their risky behavior by more than two-thirds.”

Experts estimate testing will reduce the number of new HIV cases from around 40-thousand to 17-thousand a year.

Screening could especially benefit teenagers.

“Our recommendation is to make this something that’s routine,” says Dr. Branson, “so that it doesn’t cause an adolescent in particular to have to admit something they might prefer not to, in order to get HIV-tested.”

In other words, if it’s not routine, some kids won’t ask to get tested – because it means admitting they were sexually active.

Some parents agree.

“Kids are always hiding something,” says mother Melanie Zentner, “especially in the teenaged years, even if you’re close.  So I’d like to know, so you can take care of it right away.  That would be my opinion.”

HIV tests cost between eight and 20 dollars each.  If there is a positive result, more testing is done to confirm the results.

Tips for Parents

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2006, 15 percent of persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were 13 to 24.  Twenty-six percent were aged 25-34.  The typical delay between the exposure to HIV infection and the onset of AIDS means that most of these young adults were infected as teens.  There is a growing concern among U.S. health organizations about complacency – referred to as “safe-sex fatigue” – among young people toward HIV infection and AIDS.  However, statistics show there is no reason for teens to be complacent about AIDS.

The Kaiser Family FoundationSexual Health of Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States 2008 report finds the following statistics about HIV, AIDS and teens:

  • The CDC estimates that almost 46,000 young people, ages 13 to 24, were living with HIV in the U.S in 2006. Women comprised 28% of these HIV/AIDS cases among 13- to 24-year-olds.
  • African-American young adults are disproportionately affected by HIV infection, accounting for 60% of HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 13- to 24-year-olds in 2006.
  • More HIV infections occurred among adolescents and young adults 13–29 years old (34%) of new HIV infections than any other age group. Most young people with HIV/AIDS were infected by sexual transmission.
  • In 2006, 16% of young adults ages 18 to 24 reported that they had been tested for HIV in the past 12 months.

The Kaiser study also shows that over the past decade teens have become smarter about sex:

  • Nearly half (48%) of all high school students in 2007 reported ever having had sexual intercourse, a decline from 54% in 1991. Males (50%) are slightly more likely than females (46%) to report having had sex. The median age at first intercourse is 16.9 years for boys and 17.4 years for girls.
  • In 2007, among the 35% of currently sexually active high school students, 62% reported using a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, up from 57% in 1997.1 African-American students (67%) were more likely to report using condoms compared to White (60%) and Hispanic (61%) students. Males (69%) were more like to report condom use than females (55%).
  • Using a dual method of a condom and hormonal contraceptive is becoming more prevalent for teenage females. The percentage of currently sexually active never-married females 15–19 years of age reporting use of dual methods rose from 8% in 1995 to 20% in 2002.

Sexually active teens need information, skills and support to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS.  The American Association for World Health (AAWH) says parents communicating in a positive way about sexuality and risky behaviors can have a “profound influence” in helping young people make healthy decisions.  Talking to your teen about AIDS can often be difficult and uncomfortable because it requires talking about issues like sex and drugs.  The AAWH suggests the following tips when talking to your teen about HIV and AIDS:

  • AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.  It is a serious and fatal disease of the human immune system and is caused by a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  A person will not develop AIDS unless he or she has first been infected with HIV.
  • HIV can be spread through oral, anal or vaginal sexual activity.  The sexual transmission can be from male to female, from male to male, from female to male or from female to female.  HIV may be in an infected person’s blood, semen, vaginal secretions or breast milk.  It can enter the body through cuts or sores on tissue in the vagina, penis, rectum and sometimes the mouth.  The cuts may be so small that you don’t know they’re there.
  • You can become infected with HIV from even one instance of unprotected sex.  While complete abstinence is the surest way to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV, protecting yourself with a latex condom or barrier at every sexual encounter is very important.
  • Most birth control methods like the pill or diaphragms don’t protect you from HIV.
  • Whether you inject drugs or steroids or use needles for tattoos or body piercing, sharing needles places you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.
  • Using drugs of any kind, including alcohol or inhalants, can cloud your judgment.  You could become less careful about having sex or injecting drugs – behaviors that place you at risk for HIV.

References

  • American Association for World Health
  • American College of Physicians
  • Centers for Disease Control
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation
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