Gay, bisexual young people at highest risk for HIV infection
Factors include stigma, lack of prevention education
Every month, 1,000 young people in the U.S. become infected with HIV. Drug and alcohol use and unprotected sex are major reasons youth are becoming infected at alarming rates, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report released this month.
In a Nov. 27 conference call with reporters, CDC leaders said more must be done to ensure youth ages 13-24 are tested for HIV as well as educated about the preventable disease.
“This is our future generation and the bottom line is every month 1,000 youth are becoming infected with HIV,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC. “The cost of care is approximately $400,000 over a person’s lifetime.
“That means every month we are accruing $400 million in health care costs, and every year that totals $5 billion. It is just unacceptable that young people are contracting a disease that is preventable,” he added.
In 2009, youth ages 13-24 accounted for almost 7 percent of the 1.1 million people in the country living with HIV. Some 59 percent of the youth infected do not know they are positive, according to the CDC.
“Overall, an estimated 12,200 new HIV infections occurred in 2010 among young people aged 13-24, with young gay and bisexual men and African-Americans hit harder by HIV than their peers.
“In 2010, 72 percent of estimated new HIV infections in young people occurred in young men who have sex with men. By race/ethnicity, 57 percent of estimated new infections in this age group were in African-Americans,” according to the CDC.
The CDC reports that of the 1,000 infections a month of young people, four out of five are males. Young gay and bisexual men are the hardest hit, accounting for 87 percent of male infections in youth. African American gay and bisexual men are hit even harder.
Young gay and bisexual men are more likely to have multiple sex partners, use drugs and alcohol before a sexual encounter, as well as not use condoms, which puts them at the highest risk, the report shows.
In a 12-state study of high school students in 2010, the CDC found that gay and bisexual males reported having four or more sexual partners and 20 percent used injection drugs, Dr. Kevin Fenton, the outgoing director of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & Tuberculosis Prevention, said in the conference call.
Those who identify as gay and bisexual also were more likely to report they had not received education in school about HIV.
Stigma, homophobia and discrimination play roles in high infection rates among youth, Fenton added, and many youth also do not have access to health care.
“If we are going to see a generation free from AIDS, we are going to have to intensify HIV prevention for all young people especially for gay and bisexual young males, both in health care settings and in the community, like schools and other community organizations,” Frieden said.
— Dyana Bagby