AIDS is still a threat and it’s thriving in young people

HIV/AIDS is still a very real threat, especially to younger Americans, but aside from the occasional celebrity stepping out to report they have HIV, things are typically mum on the HIV/AIDS front.

After all, the number of new infections has declined 35 percent since 2000. That doesn’t mean there is not still an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Today is World AIDS Day, and it’s a good time to think about how far we’ve come in beating this disease… and how far we still have to go.

The reality is that, right now, it’s a very present threat. Especially in young people.

HIV/AIDS still continues in young Americans — why?

We know how to prevent the spread of HIV, which is why it’s alarming to hear that so many young people are still getting — and spreading — the virus.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all young people with HIV in the U.S. aren’t aware they’re carrying the virus. Five years ago, 13 to 24-year-olds comprised 26 percent of all infections in the U.S.

In 2013, 9,961 young Americans were diagnosed with HIV infection — that’s 21 percent of the people diagnosed that year. And 81 percent of those diagnosed that year were people from 20 to 24 years old, which represented the highest number of HIV diagnoses of any age group.

Dr. Michelle Cespedes, M.D., an associate professor of infectious disease with the Mount Sinai Hospital, said a lot of things are driving HIV/AIDS to continue in younger populations.

“People have a misconception that they are not at risk,” she said, adding that most people think only men and drug addicts can have it. People who don’t know their status are more likely to transmit it, she added.

People think, “‘I’m not really at risk — I know my guy’s straight,'” she said.

More: Spreading HIV through manicures: Facts to know about the risk

Meanwhile, UNAIDS reports that more than 100 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs), excluding HIV, occur each year among young people under 25 years of age. STIs can facilitate HIV transmission between sexual partners, so preventing and treating them can stop infections from spreading.

So, young and uninformed… or young and invincible?

After all, today’s youth wasn’t around to witness the outpouring of coverage that occurred when the disease was in the media spotlight during the 1990s.

Dr. Bill Schaffner, M.D., a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said that could be part of the reason why young people are still contracting HIV/AIDS.

“People who are younger than age 25 think they’re immortal,” Schaffner said. “They don’t always take precautions.” And Schaffner often hears from people who say HIV/AIDS is a thing of the past.

“The traditional risk factors are still out there and we can’t think by any means that AIDS has been conquered in any way,” he warns. “I’m concerned that if we become complacent, we’ll have a splurge of cases once again.”

“The virus is unforgiving,” Schaffner added.

Take action

One way to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS is to get tested. Healthvana has a free solution to help you find an STD clinic and get results via the platform. In fact, 80 percent of those tested receive their results in a day, according to the company.

“Everyone is at risk and everyone should know their status,” Cespedes said. “Getting tested is an act of love.”