What Teens Need to Know About HIV

Close-up of Teen BoyMore than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 8 are unaware of their infection. But, more important for parents to know is that the fastest growing population of people with HIV are teens and young adults.

In the United States, one in four of all new HIV infections is among youth, ages 13 to 24. Every month, 1,000 young people are infected with HIV. Despite this increase, the percentage of young people tested for HIV is low compared to other age groups. Only 1 in 5 sexually active U.S. high school students has ever been tested for HIV.

With these sobering statistics in mind, it’s important that adults provide teens with appropriate information about HIV. Here are some facts to share with the adolescents in your life:

What is HIV? HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. No effective cure exists for HIV; however, with proper treatment, HIV can be controlled.

How is HIV transmitted? HIV can only be transmitted from one person to another through certain body fluids—blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane (found in the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth) or damaged tissue or be directly injected (from a needle or syringe) into the bloodstream. In the U.S., HIV is generally spread in one of two ways: 1) having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV, without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV, or 2) sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV. It is NOT spread by: mosquitos or other insects, touching or closed-mouth kissing someone with HIV, or sharing dishes or toilets with someone with HIV.

How can I protect myself from HIV? The only 100% effective way to prevent HIV is to not use needles or syringes for injecting anything outside of a medical facility and to abstain from any form of sex. The following suggestions reduce your chances of contracting the virus:

  • Use condoms the right way every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners.
  • Do not share needles.
  • Get tested every 3 to 6 months.

You can ask your health care provider for an HIV test, or you can find a testing site near you by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

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