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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Adolescents and AIDS

Today adolescents of both sexes face a serious risk of HIV infection, which causes AIDS and leads to death. HIV infection is increasing in adolescents who are heterosexual. When adolescents take certain risks, they are more likely to become infected.

These are the most important facts about AIDS:

  • AIDS is fatal.
  • Teens get AIDS (both boys and girls).
  • Latex condoms reduce the risk of getting AIDS.
  • You can get AIDS from use of even one contaminated needle or one sexual act with a partner who has HIV/AIDS.

The risk of AIDS is increased by:

  • an increased number of sexual partners
  • IV drug use
  • getting tattoos
  • anal intercourse
  • any sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) without latex condoms
  • alcohol and other drug use (sex is more impulsive and use of condoms is less likely if the participants are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs).

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a chronic illness caused by infection with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). In 1995, as many as 1.5 million Americans are believed to be infected with HIV. Some of them have AIDS, but most do not yet have any symptoms, and many do not know they are infected. There are medical treatments for HIV infection, but so far there are no cures and no vaccines.

HIV is transmitted through exchange of certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. To produce an infection, the virus must pass through the skin or mucous membranes into the body.

HIV infection is preventable. Knowledge about HIV is an important aspect of prevention. Parents should educate their children. They can also work closely with schools, churches, youth organizations, and health care professionals to ensure that children and teens receive sex education and preventive drug abuse courses that include material on HIV.

The HIV virus dies quickly when it is outside the human body. It cannot be transmitted by day-to-day or even close social contacts not mentioned above. People who live with an HIV-infected person do not catch the virus if they share drinking glasses. There is no known instance in which an HIV-infected child has passed the virus to another child in school.

HIV infection occurs in all age groups. Between 20% and 40% of the babies born to HIV-infected mothers develop HIV infection themselves. Many of these children die within 1 or 2 years, but some live for years, although their development is slowed and they can get many infections.

If a child shows signs of drug abuse or premature sexual activity, these are risk behaviors and reasons for immediate medical inquiry and intervention. Evaluation by a physician or mental health professional can be an important first step in helping a family respond effectively to high-risk behaviors in their children and adolescents.

Developed by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems