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Q&A with Dan Taylor: The Rise in HIV Cases Among American Teenagers

May 29, 2013

HIV among teenagers

dan taylorHIV/AIDS is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States among people age 15 to 24, and half of young people infected with HIV are not aware of it. An unbelievable 26 percent of all new HIV infections are among those 13 to 24. In Philadelphia, the incidence of HIV is five times the national rate.

DrexelNow checked in with Daniel Taylor, associate professor at the College of Medicine and a pediatrician at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, about this increasing trend and why HIV testing for teens is a necessity.

What is the HIV rate among young Philadelphians and why is it so?

In 2011, nearly 800 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Philadelphia; almost 40 percent were in the 13-29 age range. The factors leading to this alarming number are also disturbing. Among Philly high school teenagers, 63.5 percent have had sexual intercourse, and an astonishing 14.5 percent had their first sexual encounter before age 13. One quarter has had more than four sexual partners, and 11.1 percent drank alcohol or used drugs before their latest sexual encounter.

How can we prevent the number of HIV infected youth from rising?

Test in all health care settings. Health care providers should follow the CDC recommendations. Parents and guardians of teenagers should ask their providers to discuss HIV and testing, even with teens who are not sexually active (statistics tell us we don't always know). At St. Chris, we still provide opt-out HIV testing to all patients 13 and over. But we've undergone a culture change and transitioned from risk-based to routine (regardless of risk) testing, making HIV testing a standard of care for our patients.

What is the test?

The test is very simple and fast. Either a drop of blood or scraping of the inside of a teenager's cheek. Results are available in 15 minutes.

What can the outside community do the spread the word about HIV and the need for testing in this high-risk group?

Community groups like CHOICE, ActionAIDS and Y-HEP must continue to teach the importance of prevention, testing and treatment. Many of these programs are on the www.cap4kids.org/philadelphia website, which can help teens find resources in their communities. If we can provide these at-risk kids with the right information when they need it the most, we may be able to prevent some of them from living a majority of their lives with HIV.