A study of teenagers in Georgia shows that those who are infected with HIV were largely unaware that they may have been exposed to the virus, The Augusta Chronicle reports. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University studied teens ages 13 to 19 who attended Grady Health System's Infectious Disease Program for Adolescents between 1999 and 2002. A total of 59 teenagers tested positive for HIV. But a survey of those adolescents showed that only four of the teenagers requested an HIV antibody test because they believed their sexual activity specifically put them at risk for infection--most of the others were diagnosed through routine testing. Only about 20% of the teens were diagnosed within six months of being infected--most had been infected for considerably longer, and 8% had already developed AIDS at the time of their diagnosis. More than half of the teenage boys in the study had engaged in sex with other males, a major risk factor for HIV transmission.
Researchers say because the teenagers in the study didn't realize that the unprotected sex they were having had put them at risk for HIV infection, all sexually active youths should be regularly screened for the disease in order to catch HIV infections as early as possible. "It's hard to get a handle on how many [cases] we're missing, but I think there's a large percentage that are getting missed," said CDC researcher Althea Grant. About one quarter of the country's 40,000 new HIV cases each year occur among youths, according to the CDC.