This is the first in a series of guest columns by Wooten exploring the current state of HIV/AIDS, leading up to World Aids Day on Dec. 1.
On a rare afternoon, I found myself watching “Jersey Shore.” The group was fist pumping in a club, as Mike “The Situation” was ready to smash with a young lady from the club. The next scene was The Situation walking into a bedroom.
I shuddered and changed the channel to an episode of Maury. I braced myself for teen paternity tests. Instead, I found a touching story about a mother who was infected with HIV. It struck me that these shows revealed a clear message on views about sex. The case of the woman with HIV led me to do more research.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, usually develops into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Commonly these two are referred to by the term, HIV/AIDS. Young people (15 to 24 years old), especially young women, are in the growing number of people affected by HIV/AIDS.
The relevance of this is profoundly felt on college campuses as it is estimated that 1 out of 500 college students (0.2 percent) is infected with HIV/AIDS. This shows an alarming trend primarily fueled by three factors: high sexually transmitted disease rates, substance abuse and lack of awareness.
Overall, the CDC estimates 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year, almost half among 15- to 24-year-olds. The presence of an STD greatly increases a person’s likelihood of acquiring or transmitting HIV. It is estimated that one-in-four college students will contract an STD during their time at school. Of people who have a sexually transmitted disease, 80 percent experience no noticeable symptoms, allowing them to unknowingly transmit the disease and compound the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Young people in the United States also abuse substances such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs at high rates. Users are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Rounding out this trifecta of transmission is the lack of awareness. Research has shown a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV, as it is viewed as a problem of yesteryear. The population at large mirrors the high rate of transmission in youth.
Currently, there are 1.2 million Americans that live with HIV/AIDS, and more than 36 million people worldwide that live with HIV/AIDS. Roughly 1 in 5 Americans infected with HIV do not know they have the virus. The majority of new sexually transmitted HIV infections are transmitted by those unaware of their infection.
Even in the midst of these statistics, complacency about HIV has increased. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the percentage of Americans who think HIV is a major health problem has declined precipitously over the past decade. With this trend, the best tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS is knowledge about the enemy.