Young People at Risk:
In the United States, HIV-related death has the greatest impact on young and
middle-aged adults, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. In 1999, HIV was the
fifth leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. Among
African American men in this age group, HIV infection has been the leading cause
of death since 1991. In 1999, among black women 25-44 years old, HIV infection
was the third leading cause of death. Many of these young adults likely were
infected in their teens and twenties. It has been estimated that at least half of all
new HIV infections in the United States are among people under 25, and the majority
of young people are infected sexually (Rosenberg PS, Biggar RJ, Goedert JJ. Declining age at HIV infection in the United States [letter]. New Engl J Med 1994;330:789-90).
In 2000, 1,688 young people (ages 13 to 24)
were reported with AIDS, bringing the
cumulative total to 31,293 cases of AIDS in
this age group. Among young men aged
13- to 24-years, 49% of all AIDS cases
reported in 2000 were among men who
have sex with men (MSM); 10% were
among injection drug users (IDUs); and 9%
were among young men infected heterosexually.
In 2000, among young women the
same age, 45% of all AIDS cases reported were acquired heterosexually and 11%
were acquired through injection drug use. Among both males and females in this age
group, the proportion of cases with exposure risk not reported or identified (26% for
males and 43% for females) will decrease and the proportion of cases attributed to
sexual contact and injection drug use will increase as follow-up investigations are
completed and cases are reclassified into these categories.
Surveillance data analyzed from 25 states with integrated HIV and AIDS reporting
systems for the period between January 1996 and June 1999 indicate that young
people (aged 13 to 24) accounted for a much greater proportion of HIV (13%) than
AIDS cases (3%). These data also show that even though AIDS incidence (the
number of new cases diagnosed during a given time period, usually a year) is declining,
there has not been a comparable decline in the number of newly diagnosed
HIV cases among youth.
Scientists believe that cases of HIV infection diagnosed among 13- to 24-year-olds
are indicative of overall trends in HIV incidence (the number of new infections in a
given time period, usually a year) because this age group has more recently initiated
high-risk behaviors. Females made up nearly half (47%) of HIV cases in this age
group reported from the 34 areas with confidential HIV reporting for adults and
adolescents in 2000and in young people between the ages of 13 and 19, a much
greater proportion of HIV infections was reported among females (61%) than
among males (39%). Cumulatively, young African Americans are most heavily
affected, accounting for 56% of all HIV cases ever reported among 13- to 24-year-olds in
these 34 areas.
Improving HIV Prevention for Young People
CDC research has shown that early, clear communications between parents and young people about sex is an
important step in helping adolescents adopt and maintain protective sexual behaviors. In addition, a wide range
of activities must be implemented in communities to reduce the toll HIV infection and AIDS takes on young
- School-based programs are critical for reaching youth before behaviors are established. Because
risk behaviors do not exist independently, topics such as HIV, STDs, unintended pregnancy, tobacco, nutrition,
and physical activity should be integrated and ongoing for all students in kindergarten through high school. The
specific scope and content of these school health programs should be locally determined and consistent with
parental and community values. Research has clearly shown that the most effective programs are
comprehensive ones that include a focus on delaying sexual behavior and provide information on
how sexually active young people can protect themselves. Evidence of prevention success can be seen
in trends from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted over an 8-year period, which show both a decline in
sexual risk behaviors and an increase in condom use among sexually active youth. The percentage of sexually
experienced high school students decreased from 54.1% in 1991 to 49.9% in 1999, while condom use among
sexually active students increased from 46.2% to 58.0%. These findings represent a reversal in the trend
toward increased sexual risk among teens that began in the 1970s and point to the success of comprehensive
prevention efforts to both delay first intercourse among teens and increase condom use among young people
who are sexually active.
- Efforts to reach out-of-school-youth are made by community-based programs. Addressing the needs
of adolescents who are most vulnerable to HIV infection, such as homeless or runaway youth, juvenile
offenders, or school drop-outs, is critically important. For example, a 1993 serosurveillance survey of females
in four juvenile detention centers found that between 1% and 5% were HIV infected (median 2.8%).
- Prevention efforts for young gay and bisexual men must be sustained. Targeted, sustained prevention
efforts are urgently needed for young MSM as they come of age and initiate high-risk sexual behavior.
Ongoing studies show that both HIV prevalence and risk behaviors remain high among young MSM. In a
sample of young MSM ages 15-22 in seven urban areas, researchers found that, overall, 7% were infected
with HIV, with higher prevalence among young African American (14%) and Hispanic (7%) men than among
young white men (3%).
- We must address sexual and drug-related risk. Many students report using alcohol or drugs when they
have sex, and 1 in 50 high school students reports having injected an illegal drug. Surveillance data from the
34 states with integrated HIV and AIDS reporting systems suggest that drug injection led to at least 6% of
HIV diagnoses reported among those aged 13-24 in 2000, with an additional 50% attributed to sexual transmission
(both heterosexual and MSM).
- STD treatment must play a role in prevention programs for young people. An estimated 12 million
cases of STDs other than HIV are diagnosed annually in the United States, and about two-thirds of those are
among people under the age of 25. Research has shown that biological factors make people who are infected
with an STD more likely to become infected with HIV if exposed sexually; and HIV-infected people with
STDs also are more likely to transmit HIV to their sex partners. Expanding STD treatment is critical to
reducing the consequences of these diseases and helping to reduce risks of transmitting HIV among youth.
- Evaluation of factors influencing risk behavior must be ongoing. Both broad-based surveys of the
extent of risk behaviors among young people and focused studies of the factors contributing to risk and
behavioral intent among specific groups of adolescents must be conducted and analyzed.
For young people, it is critical to prevent patterns of risky behaviors before they start. HIV prevention efforts must
be sustained and designed to reach each new generation of Americans.
For more information...
CDC National STD & AIDS Hotlines:
CDC National Prevention Information Network:
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, Maryland 20849-6003
Last Updated: March 11, 2002
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention
Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention