Those of us who lived through the initial AIDS panic of the mid-1980s recall the terror felt by sexually active individuals. At first thought to be a disease limited to gays and IV drug users who shared needles, it was soon found to be transmitted by heterosexual contact, too. And in those days, AIDS was fatal. There was no cure. Fortunately, over the past several decades, advances in anti-viral therapies have meant that AIDS no longer carries a mandatory death sentence. With proper treatment, AIDS is now considered a lifelong, chronic disease.
The Risks and The Rates of HIV Transmission
The risk of becoming HIV-positive from a single unprotected sexual contact is between 1:1000 and 1:2500, depending on the type of exposure. The rate is highest with anal sex, very low with oral sex, with vaginal sex somewhere in between. The problem, however, is that many people aren’t getting tested.
The CDC recently reported that most sexually active high school students and young adults don’t get HIV tests. One reason is that, as AIDS has become a chronic (rather than a deadly) disease, there is less information about it in the media and in once-scary public service announcements. This lack of information leads to a false sense of security. Another reason is that adolescents and young adults face multiple barriers to HIV testing. Young people often lack access to confidential healthcare services, and their poor knowledge of sexual health may lead them to underestimate the risk of HIV infection — or to be completely ignorant about it. Access, affordability, and confidentiality are stumbling blocks to getting tested.
Getting Tested is The Key
The upshot is that 44% of adolescents and young adults infected with HIV don’t realize they have it, the highest percentage of any age group. Without testing and diagnosis, they can’t get treatment that might improve their own health and lower the risk of transmission to others. Declines in screening for black women are particularly troubling since this group has a higher risk of infection than other people.
The results highlight the need for more teens and young adults to be screened. HIV screening is a simple, accurate blood test that can be life-saving. The CDC recommends that sexually active people between 13 and 64 be screened. This is particularly true if you have multiple sexual partners, have unprotected sex, or have a new partner after a long-term relationship.
Remember, ignorance may be bliss in some matters, but ignorance of HIV/AIDS can prove fatal. Get tested.
Ignorance of HIV/AIDS can prove fatal. Get tested.
- 44% of adolescents and young adults infected with HIV don’t realize they have it
- CDC recommends that sexually active people between 13 and 64 be screened regularly
Important Times to Get Tested:
- If you have multiple partners
- If you have unprotected sex
- If you have a new partner after a long term relationship