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November 27, 2012

Dear Colleague,

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time to reflect on the impact of HIV in the United States and around the world. In commemoration of World AIDS Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is releasing the new edition of Vital Signs, which includes a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Vital Signs: HIV Infection, Testing, and Risk Behaviors Among Youths—United States. There also is an accompanying fact sheet, HIV Among Youth in the US—Protecting a Generation.

We are pleased to share with you these Vital Signs publications that highlight the impact of HIV on youth in the United States and the importance of age-appropriate HIV education; HIV testing; and linkage to care, treatment and other prevention services. This report and other Vital Signs editions are specifically designed to bring focus to important data and information and provide action steps that can be taken at the local, tribal, territorial, state, and national levels.

About 50,000 people get HIV each year and young people between the ages of 13 and 24 represent about a quarter of these new HIV infections (26 percent). The majority of youth living with HIV are unaware they are infected. Young gay and bisexual men and African Americans are the most affected.

The latest data released today on HIV infections, testing, and risk behaviors among youth and young adults show

  • Nearly 60% of new infections among youth occur in African Americans, about 20% in Hispanics/Latinos and about 20% in whites.
  • About 70% of youth were infected with HIV through male-to-male sex, 20% from heterosexual sex, 4% from injection drug use and about 4% from a combination of male-to-male sex and injection drug use.
  • Young gay and bisexual men and African Americans are hit harder by HIV than their peers.
  • About 86% of young females got HIV through heterosexual sex and 13% from injection drug use.
  • The percentage of youth tested for HIV overall was 12.9% among high school students and 34.5% among those aged 18–24 years; it was lower among males than females, and lower among whites and Hispanics/Latinos than blacks/African Americans.

According to CDC experts, a number of factors contribute to the higher levels of HIV in young people and can vary by population. In some communities HIV prevalence is higher, which increases the likelihood that someone will be exposed to infection with each sexual encounter.

Higher risk behavior among gay and bisexual youth

CDC scientists also examined risk behaviors among high school students in 12 states and nine large urban school districts, and found that young gay and bisexual males reported engaging in substantially higher levels of risk behavior than their heterosexual male peers. Young gay and bisexual males are:

  • More likely to report having had sex with four or more partners or ever injecting illegal drugs.
  • More likely to have used alcohol or drugs before their last sexual experience and less likely to have used a condom.
  • Less likely to report having been taught about HIV or AIDS in school.

Vital Signs calls for age-appropriate HIV prevention education through parents, schools, and community and web-based programs. Additionally, this edition calls for implementation of effective interventions and testing for youth at risk. It also underscores the importance of treatment and care for youth who have HIV.

On this World AIDS Day and every day, we should be working together for an AIDS-free generation. It will take a concerted effort to provide our nation’s youth with the tools and resources they need to assess their own personal risk, get tested, and protect themselves from HIV infection.

We are pleased to work with our many partners and constituents across the country as we strive to prevent the spread of HIV and to protect this generation and generations to come. More information about the Vital Signs release is available at www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns.

Sincerely,

Kevin A. Fenton, MD, PhD, FFPH
Director
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/nchhstp

Jonathan H. Mermin, MD, MPH
Director
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/hiv

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH
Director
Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth

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