Interventions needed to promote healthy behaviors among perinatally HIV-infected youth

November 8, 2012

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 to their first , 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 , 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 , disclosure, and as behaviors that will protect the health of their sexual partners as well as their own.

Early action by clinicians can help prepare these youth to make choices that reduce risk to themselves and to their partners. A critical step is informing youth of their HIV status. In this study, 18 percent of the participants were unaware they were HIV-positive at the time they started sexual activity. Clinicians and families should ensure that young people with HIV are informed of their HIV status prior to or during early adolescence, according to current guidelines for disclosure of to children and adolescents.

Researchers found that among sexually active youth with high viral load (> 5,000 copies/ml), 81 percent had drug-resistant virus. This raises the possibility of resistant virus being transmitted to sexual partners and also limits treatment options for infected youth. Author George R. Seage III, DSc, MPH, also of the Harvard School of Public Health, believes that one critical step in encouraging optimal adherence may be informing young people "that ART can dramatically reduce the likelihood of sexual transmission of HIV."

Although the three-pronged message—safer sex practices, disclosure of HIV status to sexual partners, and adherence to ART regimens—is not new, targeted and innovative intervention strategies are needed to reach this important group of adolescents and reinforce healthy behaviors, the team of authors concluded.

Explore further: Canada high court lowers bar for HIV disclosure

Related Stories

Canada high court lowers bar for HIV disclosure

October 5, 2012
Canada's Supreme Court on Friday decriminalized the non-disclosure of HIV status prior to sex where no realistic possibility of transmitting the potentially deadly virus exists.

Study finds non-disclosure of HIV serostatus common among India female sex workers

July 23, 2012
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) in partnership with Indian researchers and HIV positive networks groups, have found that in India, non-disclosure of HIV serostatus to sex partners among both HIV-infected ...

Fighting HIV in South Africa should focus on couples, study finds

April 25, 2011
A new study of sexual risk behaviors within long-term couples in South Africa finds that HIV-positive people take almost as much risk in their sexual behavior when they know their partner is HIV-negative or don't know their ...

Recommended for you

Scientists divulge latest in HIV prevention

July 25, 2017
A far cry from the 1990s "ABC" campaign promoting abstinence and monogamy as HIV protection, scientists reported on new approaches Tuesday allowing people to have all the safe sex they want.

Girl's HIV infection seems under control without AIDS drugs

July 24, 2017
A South African girl born with the AIDS virus has kept her infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines—more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, ...

Meds by monthly injection might revolutionize HIV care (Update)

July 24, 2017
Getting a shot of medication to control HIV every month or two instead of having to take pills every day could transform the way the virus is kept at bay.

Candidate AIDS vaccine passes early test

July 24, 2017
The three-decade-old quest for an AIDS vaccine received a shot of hope Monday when developers announced that a prototype triggered the immune system in an early phase of human trials.

Paris spotlight on latest in AIDS science

July 21, 2017
Some 6,000 HIV experts gather in Paris from Sunday to report advances in AIDS science as fading hopes of finding a cure push research into new fields.

Scientists elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV in calves

July 20, 2017
Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health have achieved a significant step forward, eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) to HIV by immunizing calves. The findings offer insights for HIV vaccine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.