Teens, Get Tested for HIV

American Academy of Pediatrics encourages doctors to test teens for HIV

(RxWiki News) If you're a sexually active teen, your doctor should offer to test you for HIV at least once by the time you're 18. That's the new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most teens may not believe that they're at risk of contracting HIV, and have never been tested. But if they're sexually active or have other risk factors – especially if they live in a community with a high prevalence of the disease – HIV could have a huge impact on their long-term health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement encourages doctors to routinely test adolescents for HIV.

"If you're a sexually active teen, get tested for HIV."

The treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the United States has made great progress over the years, but the epidemic persists. People continue to get infected by the disease. According to the AAP policy statement, between 2005 and 2008 the number of infections increased among Americans aged 15 – 24.

In addition, 20 percent of people with HIV are unaware that they are infected. This is the group that is most likely to be responsible for new infections. And that's why routine screening for HIV is important. People who are aware of their HIV status are more likely to change their behavior to avoid infecting others.

The AAP offers different recommendations for testing teens at different levels of risk. HIV testing should be offered to teens at least once by the time they're 16 to 18, if they live in an area where HIV prevelence in the patient population is 0.1 percent. In areas where HIV is not as common, routine HIV testing is encouraged to all teens with risk factors. High-risk youth should be tested annually.

The AAP has recommended HIV screening for teens since 2001. The new policy statement reflects changes in diagnostic testing, statistics, and updates recommendations.

Learning if a teen has high-risk behaviors is the first step to assessing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The AAP encourages pediatricians to discuss sexual activity, sexual identity, and substance use with teens, in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. This conversation should take place regardless of perceived risk.

Testing teens for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be concerning for a parent. However, the teen patient's own consent is enough for a test to be provided. If cost or confidentiality are concerns, there are typically community-based testing clinics available.

The full policy statement and list of recommendations are available from the journal Pediatrics. The updated recommendations were published in late 2011.

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Review Date: 
November 4, 2011