by Hannah Littlefield
This past week the Center for Disease Control released new statistics indicating that young people between the ages of 13 to 24 contracted more than 25% of all new HIV infections in the United States. Even more concerning, out of these 12,000 plus individuals nearly 60% are still unaware that they have been infected with HIV. Youths have been the hardest hit by HIV due to many factors, including risky behavior that increases the risk of exposure to the virus like not using condoms, having multiple partners, and drinking alcohol or doing drugs prior to having sex. The first defense that youths need to have in their arsenal against HIV is the knowledge about this disease and how to prevent their risk of contracting it.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was recognized in the United States during the early 1980s and is a result of the virus HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). The HIV virus is found in blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluid and thus the most common ways of becoming infected are through unprotected sex (heterosexual, homosexual, vaginal, anal, or oral), or by sharing needles with someone who is already infected. As the virus enters the bloodstream, it takes over cells that operate the immune response, CD4+ lymphocytes, and then injects its own genes into the cells. These infected cells continue to make more and more infected cells spreading throughout the entire body. As the number of healthy CD4+ cells become less and less, the body is less able to fight off infections and other diseases. Although everyone can be at risk for contracting HIV, the CDC warns that the infection is “more common among certain populations at risk, such as people who inject illicit drugs, and bisexual and gay men…Aboriginal peoples, African and Caribbean communities,” and also young people. The first stage of defending yourself, and others, against this virus is getting tested. The percent of youths who have been tested for HIV is so extremely low, 13% among high school students and 35% of 18-24 year olds. The Director of the CDC explains that all young people can “learn their HIV Status” thus “protect[ing] their health, avoid[ing] contracting and transmitting the virus.”
Today 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, seven percent are youths, proving that people can live with HIV and learn how to maintain their wellbeing. When first discovered in the United States 30 years ago, those living with HIV had many more challenges because there was less knowledge about the disease and less expertise and resources devoted to those infected. Avert, an international AIDS and HIV charity, explains that “like any other medical condition, living with HIV means that people have to do things differently, be it taking medication at particular times, seeing a doctor more frequently, following a particular diet or avoiding doing certain things that would probably affect one’s treatment or health…it may not be easy, but living positively with HIV is possible.”
Despite improvements in medical technology, the fact is HIV is a progressive disease and it will generally get worse and more severe as time passes. Many patients will live longer than average lives, while some people will live shorter than average, the doctor cannot give a prognosis for HIV to precisely determine the length of time people will live. However, advances in treatment have given patients with HIV more options and have also improved quality and length of life. The Mayo Clinic has studies that show that “drugs can be used in combination to control the virus” and “block the virus in different ways.” Also a recent model of treatment called the HIV Treatment Cascade has been implemented to improve services and also to stop the spread of HIV. This treatment program begins by getting tested, then if infected getting HIV care and sustaining this care, taking the recommended ART (Standard Antiretroviral Therapy). This cascade therapy will help to suppress a patient’s viral load in order to help them to live a healthier life with less complications and risks even though they are HIV positive.
Young people in America, and across the world, are at too high of a risk not to take HIV prevention, detection, and treatment seriously. Being knowledgeable about what HIV is, how it is spread, and what you can do to protect yourself is essential. Gen Ys can help in the fight against and advocate for the prevention of HIV by decreasing risky behaviors, knowing your HIV status, making wise decisions about sex and drug use, and seeking treatment if infected. It is everyone’s responsibility to stand up against HIV and help to irradiate it for the next generations.
Published December 3, 2012
Together We Can Win [Video]
Kyle Seago, Jordan Stead and Mark Malijan of The Emerald Collective in Seattle, Washington, submitted this video as part of a contest sponsored by Chevron on Zooppa.com. At Chevron, we believe that communication is a key to beating HIV/AIDS. By watching and sharing this video, you can help the world take a step closer to this goal. For more ways to join the fight, visit http://www.chevron.com/aids
Ward Cates On The HIV Treatment Cascade [Video]
FHI 360 President Emeritus Ward Cates discusses the HIV treatment cascade. This model aims to bring us closer to the end of AIDS by addressing the gaps in the HIV diagnosis and treatment system currently in place.
Additional Link: Celebrities with HIV/AIDS