HIV Prevalence Grows in Teens

Growing HIV incidence in young individuals could cause epidemic to become worse.

In the midst of the HIV/AIDS global epidemic, attendees at the AIDS 2016 annual meeting learned there is a surge in the amount of teen HIV cases, which could end up causing the epidemic to spiral out of control again unless something is done, reported New Scientist.

In 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that youth between the ages of 13- and 24-years-old accounted for 22% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States.

But, the most substantial data on this boom came from South Africa. In a study presented at AIDS 2016, individuals with HIV between 10- and 19-years-old increased 16-fold to 237,987 since the mid-2000s. Some of these adolescents contracted HIV recently, while others may have had the infection their whole lives because of mother-to-child transmission.

Although steps have been taken to prevent this form of transmission, which has dramatically reduced the amount of infants born with HIV, the drugs were not widely available during the time today’s young adults were born, according to New Scientist.

“What we’re seeing is a shift of relative age distribution of those on ART away from those under 5, and towards those over 10 years old,” researcher Mhairi Maskew told New Scientist.

Maskew noted these findings suggest that the number of HIV-infected individuals between the ages of 15- and 19-years-old will peak around 2019. Although 74% of 5- to 9-year-olds had the virus under control, the numbers dropped to 69% in 10- to 14-year-olds, and 62% in 15- to 19-year-olds, according to New Scientist.

To address this issue, researchers in Durban shared evidence on how best to protect teens from the virus and stop it from spreading. One approach may be to offer adolescents access to PrEP to help protect against infection, according to New Scientist.

In an article published by NPR, 18-year-old Catherine Msimango said that every night she takes PrEP, the same pill that people with HIV take to fight the virus, despite being HIV-negative. Msimango resides in Soweto, South Africa has nearly 7 million people living with HIV, which is more than any other country in the world, according to NPR.

A pilot program was recently launched to offer antiretroviral drugs to teenagers in Soweto and Cape Town, South Africa, including 150 sexually active teens between the ages of 15- and 19-years-old. The researchers are optimistic about PrEP being used as a new prevention method for HIV and stated that it could be revolutionary if introduced on a large scale, according to the report.