Column/Young people must use protection

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 28, 2007

This week I was made aware of an alarming trend.

While talking with some single people who are in their late 20s, I learned that apparently many do not take seriously the risk of contracting the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, it seemed everyone was scared to death to contract the disease. There were public service announcements, movies depicting a character dying of AIDS and even television series with episodes devoted to the epidemic.

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Most people I knew would not have considered having sex without using a condom.

The trend seems to have shifted. With less emphasis being placed on HIV/AIDS in the United States, young people appear to view the disease as less of a threat than we did.

None of the young adults included in this recent discussion knew anyone who had AIDS or who had died of AIDS.

Again, when I was in school and in the early years of my career, it seemed that everyone knew at least one person who had been diagnosed – a brother, an uncle or a friend.

And most of those died of the disease.

Fortunately, great strides have been made in medicine and people who are HIV positive can be given “cocktails” of combination drug therapies that appear to hold off the onset of AIDS.

“HIV researchers are constantly discovering new drugs to block the HIV at different points in its life cycle,” according to WebMD.

People diagnosed as positive don’t have to view that as a death sentence – if they get the proper medication and treatment.

That’s good news.

But young people still should take proper precautions and practice safe sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 4,883 young people – ages 13 to 24 years of age – were diagnosed with the HIV infection in one year.

African Americans were disproportionately affected by HIV infection, accounting for 55 percent of those cases.

The CDC conducted a Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, which showed 47 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse, 7.4 percent before the age of 13.

Clearly, these young people need to have sex education that includes HIV/AIDS education, and it needs to be taught at the middle school level if not earlier – before teens begin engaging in sexual activity.

“Research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV,” the CDC reported.

“Adolescents need accurate, age-appropriate information about HIV infection and AIDS, including how to talk with their parents or other trusted adults about HIV and AIDS, how to reduce or eliminate risk factors, how to talk with a potential partner about risk factors, where to get tested for HIV, how to use a condom correctly.

“Information should also include the concept that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid infection.”

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.