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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Survey: Young Adults Uninformed About HIV; Stigmas Persist

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

More than 30 years after the start of the HIV crisis, young people in the United States still harbor misconceptions about HIV and lack sufficient knowledge of the sexually transmitted infection (STI), according to a new survey.

Researchers from Merck and the Prevention Access Campaign surveyed 1,596 Generation Z (18-22 years of age) and millennials (23-36 years of age) to determine their understandings, beliefs, and sexual practices related to HIV. Forty-one percent of HIV-negative Generation Z respondents reported being somewhat informed or uninformed about HIV, compared to 23% of HIV-negative millennials. Other findings include:

  • 54% of respondents reported not using condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV, despite concern about contracting the STI;
  • 75% of HIV-positive millennials and 60% of HIV-positive Generation Z respondents indicated they contracted HIV through unprotected sex;
  • 28% of HIV-negative millennials avoid hugging and other casual contact with people living with HIV, and 30% prefer to avoid social interaction with a person with HIV;
  • Only 30% of HIV-positive respondents understood that the virus cannot be transmitted if undetectable in the blood;
  • 50% of those who are HIV-negative believed the virus can be transmitted when undetectable;
  • 30% of HIV-positive respondents incorrectly believe a person with HIV can halt treatment if they are feeling better;
  • 90% of all respondents agree that a person with HIV would hide his or her status due to fear of social stigma.

“Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” said Bruce Richman, founding executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign and the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable campaign. “These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over. It’s time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America’s young people, and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma.”

Hospital EDs can play a role in diagnosing HIV in patients and linking them to treatment. An article in the December issue of ED Management details how EDs in large, U.S. academic medical centers routinely screen patients for HIV, regardless of the reason for the visit. Those who test positive are quickly referred to specialized care to begin treatment. ED Management also details how the rising tide of STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia threatens to undermine efforts to stem the HIV epidemic in the United States.