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Majority of young HIV-positive Americans unaware of status

Young Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 represent more than 25 percent of new HIV infections each year and 60 percent of these youth are unaware they are infected, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The most-affected young people are young gay and bisexual men and black Americans, the report found.

An estimated 12,200 new HIV infections occurred in 2010 among young people aged 13-24. In 2010, 72 percent of estimated new HIV infections in young people occurred in young men who have sex with men.

“That so many young people become infected with HIV each year is a preventable tragedy,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden.  “All young people can protect their health, avoid contracting and transmitting the virus, and learn their HIV status.”

According to CDC experts, a number of factors contribute to the high levels of HIV in young people and vary by population.  HIV prevalence is higher in some communities than in others, which can increase the likelihood that a person will be exposed to infection with each sexual encounter.  Previous research has also found that other factors can increase risk of infection, such as higher levels of unrecognized and untreated infection, as well as social and economic factors, such as poverty, lack of access to health care, stigma and discrimination.

Despite recommendations from CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that call for routine HIV testing of youth in medical settings, the analysis shows that 35 percent of 18-24 year olds have been tested for HIV, while only 13 percent of high school students have ever been tested.

Partially as a result of lower testing levels, HIV-infected people under the age of 25 are significantly less likely than those who are older to get and stay in HIV care, and to have their virus controlled at a level that helps them stay healthy and reduce their risk of transmitting HIV to partners.

“We can and must achieve a generation that is free from HIV and AIDS,” said Kevin Fenton, a CDC spokesperson.  “It will take a concerted effort at all levels across our nation to empower all young people, especially young gay and bisexual youth, with the tools and resources they need to protect themselves from HIV infection.”

The report was issued in advance of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. Salt Lake City will host various events and the eighth annual Red Party will be held at the Hotel Monaco on Nov. 29.

More information about the Vital Signs release is available at cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom. For more information about World AIDS Day activities in Utah, go here.

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