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NIH Reports Youth have High Levels of HIV

Update Date: Jan 24, 2014 11:19 AM EST

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is an incurable illness that gets transmitted most commonly via sexual intercourse. Due to advances in medications, HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) can be managed. However, prevention, via drug tests and protected sex, is extremely important. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the HIV rate for America's youth is relatively high.

For this report, the NIH and other institutions looked at participants enrolled in the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN). The network helps provide medical care for young HIV patients as well as preventative advice for at risk youth. As a part of ATN, the children and young adults are allowed to participate in research studies examining ways of reducing the HIV transmission rate. The participants were between the ages of 12 and 24.

Specifically, the researchers looked at viral load and CD4 counts in 852 participants from 14 cities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. They found that many of the HIV positive participants were diagnosed early on. When HIV is detected early, treatments are better, which improve overall life quality. Despite this finding, the researchers also discovered that the HIV transmission rate for this age group was relatively high. They reported that over 30 percent of young males who engaged in sexual behaviors with other males had high levels of HIV.

"In the first few weeks, the viral load can be millions of copies, or higher," study author Bill G. Kapogiannis, M.D., scientific director of the ATN said. "Then, over the ensuing months, it stabilizes at about 30,000 to 50,000 copies. Normal CD4 counts range from 500 to 1,000, but drop substantially during the infection."

The researchers calculated that 34 percent of the people had CD4+ counts of 350 or less. 27 percent fell in the range of 351 to 500 and 39 percent had counts at 500 or higher. The researchers found that young males who had sex with other males had the highest average viral load at over 115,000. For all males in general, the average viral load exceeded 106,000. For females, the average viral load was 48,000.

"This is not a time for complacency,'' said Kapogiannis according to Medical Xpress. "Our results suggest that all health care providers who work with young people-particularly those who work with males who have sex with other males-should stress the urgency of getting tested, and, if infected, into treatment, which benefits their own health as well as reduces transmission to others."

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that HIV is diagnosed in one in four people between the ages of 13 and 24. Roughly 60 percent of infected youth do not know they have HIV and therefore, they remain untreated. These individuals also increase the risk of transferring the virus to other adolescents and young adults.

"It's important to get these individuals into treatment early, not only for the sake of their own health, but also for that of others, because many youth don't even know they are infected and may risk unknowingly transmitting the virus during this time," Kapogiannis said.

The study was published in AIDS.

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