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Survey: A third of US teens don't realize HIV is an STD

An HIV/AIDS symbol hangs on the North Lawn of the White House on December 1, 2010, during World AIDS Day.
An HIV/AIDS symbol hangs on the North Lawn of the White House on December 1, 2010, during World AIDS Day.
Jewel Samad / AFP via Getty Images

Nearly nine in 10 US teens say they're not at risk for HIV, according to a new MAC AIDS Fund survey.

It's true HIV affects a very small portion (less than 1 percent) of the US population, but health experts warn that the lack of awareness about the disease could be one of several factors driving an increase in HIV diagnoses and infections among youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says young people ages 13 to 24 make up approximately one in four new HIV infections in the US, and about 60 percent of those infected don't know they have the disease.

The MAC AIDS Fund's survey of more than 1,000 US teens ages 12 to 17 found 88 percent of respondents don't think they're at risk of getting HIV in their lifetimes. Some other findings:

  1. About one in three don't realize HIV is a sexually transmitted disease.
  2. Less than four in 10 would talk or spend time with an HIV-positive friend or classmate to make them feel better.
  3. Nearly one in four wouldn't want to share a drink with someone who is HIV-positive, and 13 percent wouldn't want to touch an HIV-positive person.
  4. Only 71 percent of teens realize using a condom helps prevent HIV, and less than half acknowledge having only one sexual partner can help prevent an infection.

The findings suggest stigma and misinformation about HIV are fairly common among youth. That could help explain the huge rise in annual HIV diagnoses among boys and men (ages 13 to 24) who have sex with men over the past few years.

Annual_hiv_diagnoses

To scale back the increase in HIV diagnoses and infections, public health officials say they're going to have to work through that misinformation and stigma. Based on the MAC AIDS Fund's survey, health workers have their work cut out for them.

To read more about what it's like to live with HIV, check out Vox's in-depth look.