The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has long recommended HIV screening for teenagers who admit to being sexually active, is now recommending that all teenagers between ages 16 and 18 receive regular HIV testing if they live in an area where the HIV infection rate is higher than 0.1 percent of the population.
"We're finding that when targeted testing is offered to sexually active youth... we're not getting those youth to actually test and we have not decreased the number of new infections in [that] population," says Dr. Jaime Martinez, an adolescent medicine specialist with Stroger Hospital of Cook County in Chicago. He deals with HIV-infected youth daily and is one of the authors of the AAP paper.
In 2006, there were more than 1.1 million HIV-positive people living in the United States. Of that population, the CDC says 5% were adolescents and young adults, ages 13 to 24 years old. That may seem like a small overall percentage but consider this: Upwards of 70% of new HIV infections are caused by people of all ages who are unaware of their HIV-positive status. Roughly one of every two HIV-infected adolescents don't know they're positive.
"I can't think of a downside [to testing]," says Martinez. "We find that youth who test and become aware of whether they're affected... become more conscious about engaging in safer sex practices."