HIV Among Youth

A teenage girl and several teen boys sitting in a classroomToday’s youth need age-appropriate HIV prevention education provided by parents, schools, the community, and web-based educational programs. They need to be taught early about HIV prevention in a way that they can understand and use. This includes education about risks and skills to help delay sex and prevent HIV infection.

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You may ask why is this necessary….Here are a few reasons, and they are profound: one in four (12,000 per year, 1,000 a month) new HIV infections in the United States is among young people between the ages of 13 and 24. More than half of new infections among youth occur in African Americans, that is more new infections than among any other group by race/ethnicity and gender.

Parents, teachers, mentors and community leaders need to have this information to move us to act, to make a concerted effort to provide our nation’s youth with the tools and resources they need to assess their own personal risk, to decrease risky behaviors, to get tested, and protect themselves from HIV infection.

This is one step to help reduce the number of youth who every year are diagnosed with HIV. In a 2012 Vital Signs report behaviors among youth that may put them at risk were reviewed. Factors such as stigma, homophobia, discrimination, less condom use, more alcohol and drug use, and having sex with older partners (who may be more likely to be infected) put young gay and bisexual males at greater risk for HIV infection.

In some communities, including some African-American communities, there are more people living with HIV, which increases the likelihood that someone will be exposed to infection with each sexual encounter. Limited access to sexual health services, lack of HIV awareness, social/economic factors (including poverty), stigma/discrimination, and higher rates of incarceration also are associated with increased HIV risk for African-American communities.

There is so much we can do. Youth need to know they have someone to talk to him or her about sexual health, about disease prevention, and, if needed, where to get an HIV test. Education is the first step to keeping our youth healthy and HIV free. Testing is the first step to getting those with HIV the medical care and treatment they need to improve their health, extend their life, and prevent the spread of HIV to others.

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Surprising News About Bisexual Men & HIV

A man touching his hands to his headThe number of HIV positive men who have sex with both men and women is likely no higher than the number of HIV positive heterosexual men. The finding challenges a popular assumption that bisexual men are responsible for significant HIV transmission to their female partners.

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“Some observers have exaggerated the idea of viral ‘bridging’ — where a bisexual man contracts HIV from another man and then transmits it to a female partner. But, at least in the U.S., the data supporting the extent of this is quite limited,” said Mackey R. Friedman, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Pitt Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, who led the research.

Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not report on HIV data specific to bisexually behaving people, though it does report data on homosexually and heterosexually behaving people, as well as injection drug users.

Dr. Friedman and his colleagues reviewed over 3,000 scientific articles to obtain data on HIV prevalence and risks among men who have sex with men only and men who have sex with men and women.

The bisexually behaving men were only 40 percent as likely to be infected with HIV as the homosexually behaving men. The researchers propose that this is because the bisexually behaving men reported lower rates of unprotected receptive anal intercourse, the biggest risk factor for HIV transmission among men in the U.S.

The analysis also estimates that there are approximately 1.2 million bisexual men in the U.S., of whom 121,800 are HIV-positive. That estimate aligns with CDC estimates for HIV infection in male heterosexuals and intravenous drug users.

Dr. Friedman, who has conducted HIV prevention and research for more than 15 years, believes that while bisexually behaving men may have a lower risk profile than homosexually behaving men, their HIV burden still warrants the development of targeted interventions.

“The HIV infection risk that bisexual men pose to their female partners has likely been overstated,” said Dr. Friedman. “However, that doesn’t mean that HIV-prevention campaigns targeting bisexual men and their male and female partners aren’t needed. HIV does exist in the bisexual community, and national, bisexual-specific data collection, research, and HIV prevention and care delivery are necessary to ameliorate this population’s HIV burden.”