HIV Information and Youth

  • In the United States, 21% of new HIV diagnoses in 2019 were among young people aged 13-24 years. Eighty-eight percent of youth who received a new HIV diagnosis were young men and 12% were young women.
  • Getting tested for HIV is an important step toward prevention; however, testing rates among high school students remain low. Only 9% of U.S. high school students have ever been tested for HIV.

Youth Need to Know their HIV Status to Stay Healthy

Almost half of young people (aged 13-24) with HIV do not know they have the virus. Testing can connect youth who are negative to HIV prevention resources. Testing positive means connecting to health services and taking medicine to treat HIV. Taking HIV medicine as prescribed can make the amount of HIV in blood (viral load) very low—so low that a test can’t detect it (called an undetectable viral load). Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing to do to stay healthy.

Sexual Risk Behaviors Can Lead to HIV, STDs, and Pregnancy

From 2009 to 2019, CDC data showed declines in sexual risk behaviors among high school students, including fewer who are currently sexually active. The percentage of high school students who ever had sex decreased from 46% in 2009 to 38% in 2019. However, many youth engage in health risk behaviors and experiences that can result in unintended outcomes.

  • Declines in condom use: Condom use among sexually active students decreased from 61% in 2009 to 54% in 2019, presenting a serious health risk for HIV and STDs.
  • Substance use and high-risk behaviors: Youth may engage in high-risk behaviors, such as sex without a condom or not taking medicine to prevent or treat HIV, when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Nationwide, 27% of all students are currently sexually active (had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months) and 21% of those students drank alcohol or used drugs before their most recent sexual intercourse.
  • Some youth are at higher risk: Some youth, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth, are at greater risk for negative health outcomes. For example, 11% of LGB students have had sex with four or more partners during their life, compared to 8% of heterosexual students. LGB students (4%) were also more likely to have ever injected any illegal drugs than heterosexual students (1%).

These data show there is work to be done to ensure that youth have the support they need to become healthy, successful adults. Addressing HIV in youth requires  providing them with the skills they need to reduce their risk, make healthy decisions, and get treatment and care if needed.

Schools Can Help Prevent HIV

Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of youth. The nation’s schools provide an opportunity for 55 million students to learn about the dangers of unhealthy behaviors and to practice skills that promote a healthy lifestyle. Because schools reach millions of students every day, they are in a unique position to help youth learn and adopt behaviors that reduce their risk for HIV.

What are ways to encourage youth to stay healthy?

  • Teach students the basics about HIV and other STDs
  • Promote communication between youth and their parents or families
  • Support student access to confidential HIV counseling and testing services.

How can schools encourage students to get tested for HIV?

  • Use health risk behavior data to prioritize needs for health education or services
  • Connect students to health services that include HIV testing and counseling
  • Encourage students and their parents or families to talk about HIV.

What Can You Do?

Youth need to understand their risk and know how to protect themselves against HIV.

  • Get educated. Learn the basic facts about HIV transmission, testing, and prevention.
  • Get talking. Talk with parents, families, teachers, doctors, and other trusted adults about HIV and sexual health.
  • Get tested for HIV. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Contact your health care provider about testing.
  • Get medicine. If you test positive for HIV, get support, seek treatment, and stay in care to remain healthy and prevent passing the virus to others.
A group of teenagers sitting in front of school image

Families, schools, and community- and school-based organizations and health centers must work together to help provide safe and nurturing environments for youth.