As youth infected at birth with HIV reach adolescence and young adulthood, a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases underscores the need to promote healthy behaviors as some of these young people become sexually active.
Like other adolescents, some of the 330 young people in the study (from 15 sites across the U.S.) have initiated sexual activity, with many reporting having unprotected sex. Of the youth who were asked about disclosure of their HIV status to their first sexual partners, the majority reported that they had not disclosed to their partner prior to sexual activity, researchers found. While sexual activity is not uncommon among adolescents, HIV-infected or not, "HIV infection adds another level of complexity to the adolescence of youth who are infected and has implications for both their own health and that of their sexual partners," said lead study author Katherine Tassiopoulos, DSc, MPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health.
The link between not following regimens for antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications - known as non-adherence-and risky sexual behaviors, already recognized among HIV-positive adults, is just now coming to light in adolescents as this cohort emerges from childhood. "Among youth, both non-adherence and sexual initiation may be expressions of independence or of the desire to feel accepted by peers," the authors noted. Successful interventions may account for adolescents' growing desire for independence by encouraging medication adherence, disclosure, and condom use as behaviors that will protect the health of their sexual partners as well as their own.