Are Teens At Risk Of HIV?
Young people often feel invincible. This could be why many teenagers believe that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) only affects older people. However, statistics show 57% of HIV infections occur among people 13-24 years old. Due to social stigma, teens often do not access critical resources to prevent HIV or HIV transmission. That means teens also pose the most significant risk of spreading the virus to others. With a better understanding of the disease, sexually active teens can prevent the spread, lowering the number of new infections.
Understanding how HIV spreads
Human immunodeficiency virus severely weakens the body’s immune system. If left untreated, HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition responsible for thousands of deaths yearly. The virus is transmitted via bodily fluids through sexual contact or sharing needles. The risk is exceptionally high through rectal fluids and needles. Therefore, men who have sex with men (MSM) and people who inject drugs (PWID) are at increased risk. An HIV+ mother can also transfer the disease during pregnancy or via breastfeeding.
Are teens super spreaders?
Statistics show 50% of teens are having sex, with many not using proper protection. Since teens have a stronger immune system, this group is more likely to have an undetectable viral load. Therefore, many teens are unaware of the virus and can pass HIV to others. Teens are also likely to experiment with sex without proper knowledge. Add in the fact that many do not access HIV resources, and this group is the most likely to become infected. Despite the dangers, there are ways teens can prevent HIV from spreading.
Empowered with educated
Teens must become educated about HIV and the dangers of the virus. Classrooms and other educational systems can teach teens about HIV, how the virus spreads, and prevention efforts. Parents must also get involved, creating a safe space for teens to ask questions. If teenagers are empowered with information, the group will be more inclined to use protection or negotiate for safer sex.
Get friends involved
Peer pressure can lead to dangerous behavior but can also be a force for good. Teens profoundly influence each other and can share information on HIV awareness. Through platforms like social media, teens can encourage others to get tested and understand safe sex.
Make testing the norm
While many teens admit to having sex at least once, most have never been HIV tested. Even when testing resources are free or readily available, testing is seen as taboo. Teenagers who engage in sex should get tested at least once. People at higher risk, such as gay or bisexual teens, should get tested every 3-6 months. The risk is higher with this group as there are still stigmas around gay and bisexual relationships.
Consider PrEP and PEP
High-risk teens should consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to avoid contracting the disease. This drug helps the body produce sufficient antibodies for added protection. PrEP is now easily accessible and can be taken either daily or on demand. In cases of high-risk exposure, a doctor may suggest post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a short course of HIV medication. Taking PEP within 72 hours of unprotected sex can help with HIV prevention.
Become HIV advocates
Teenagers who have sex should consider HIV testing to prevent the spread of the disease. This group may not take HIV seriously, especially since the overall numbers have decreased compared to several years ago. Nonetheless, there is still a chance of contracting the disease. When a teenager decides to get tested, abstain, or practice safe sex, that person immediately becomes an advocate.