The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College Health Association estimate that 1 in 500 college students are infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV infection usually develops into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Being HIV positive is not the same as having full-blown AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but may not get sick for years. As HIV progresses to full-blown AIDS, the immune system gets weaker. This allows viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria (that normally don’t cause any problems) to cause opportunistic infections, making the HIV positive person very ill. Research has shown that HIV infection progressed to AIDS more slowly among young people than among all persons with a diagnosis of HIV infection.
Factors such as peer pressure, lack of maturity, and alcohol and drug use put college students at risk for HIV infection. College students may have unprotected sex with multiple partners or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This may be something they wouldn’t do if not under the influence. Abandoning safer sex techniques and failing to use condoms correctly and consistently can lead to possible HIV infection or other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Having an STD can increase your chances of getting HIV/AIDS. Some of the highest STD rates in the country are those among young people.
Researchers have conducted many studies to determine whether the threat of HIV infection causes college students to alter risky behaviors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to. Studies indicate that increased knowledge of HIV/AIDS does not always result in a positive behavior change. College students appear to be very knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS. Knowledge of HIV and safe sex practices appear to be greater among men than women. Males who were more knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS reported less intercourse and said they were more likely to use condoms. Knowledge among college females was not associated with condom use. Females may perceive themselves as less susceptible to HIV. While most heterosexual college students know they are at risk for HIV infection, most do not feel personal risk. Research has indicated that 75-85% of heterosexual students do not feel at risk for HIV infection.
It is estimated that at least half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. are among people under the age of 25. The majority of young people are infected sexually. This means that prevention is still vital to eliminate infection. IV drug-users are at high risk for HIV infection. HIV is not passed through social contact. Kissing an infected person is also not a known risk.
Know if your partner has ever had an HIV test, used IV drugs, or engaged in risky sexual behaviors (anal intercourse, multiple partners). This can be awkward but if you are comfortable enough to have sex with someone, you should be comfortable enough to talk about it. Unfortunately, just because someone says they are negative, doesn’t mean they are. Protect yourself by using a latex condom every time. You should also find out for sure that you are not infected. Your college health center or local clinic can perform a test for free or at low cost. There are two ways the test is conducted: anonymous and confidential. You should ask which way the test is administered. Anonymous testing means that the results are not connected with your name. This is the preferred way so that if your test is positive, it will not affect future opportunities (such as insurance coverage). Confidential means that your test results will not be shared with others, but they could be put in your medical records. There is potential for others to discover your status.
If you have AIDS or are HIV positive, be honest with your partner(s). Criminal charges have been filed against people who knew they were HIV positive but did not reveal their status to sexual partners.
Some people develop symptoms of HIV shortly after being infected. It can also take more than 7-10 years to develop symptoms. Most college students in their twenties who are living with HIV/AIDS were probably infected in their teens.
There are several stages of HIV disease. The first symptom of HIV disease is often swollen lymph glands in the throat, armpit, or groin. Some other early symptoms include severe diarrhea, fever, headaches, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, and muscle aches. The symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time and do not go away without treatment. Since these symptoms are commonly seen in other diseases, don’t assume these are HIV/AIDS-related until you get tested. You cannot rely on symptoms to determine your HIV status. A positive HIV test does not mean a person has AIDS. A diagnosis of AIDS is made by a physician using certain clinical criteria.
There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS. There are a variety of new treatments and medication cocktails that help people manage the disease and maintain their normal life activities. Even if you view AIDS as a chronic long-term illness, it’s not something that is easy to deal with or care for.
Many myths surround HIV and AIDS. These myths are leading to increased infection rates. The largest myth among most young people is that they are immune and that it happens to other people. It happens to gays, it doesn’t happen to heterosexuals or it happens to minorities, it doesn’t happen to white folks.
For college students who are sexually adventurous, the best way to prevent HIV transmission is through the use of latex condoms. When condoms are correctly and consistently used during sexual intercourse the risk of HIV may be lowered by 70% to 100%. Unfortunately, less than 10% reported always using condoms. Another study found that students with multiple or casual partners used condoms only 7% to 20% of the time during their last involvement in sexual intercourse.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 71% of all HIV infections among male adults and adolescents in 2005. Given that a large number of HIV-infected people are unaware of their infection, HIV testing is an important strategy for this population. Many of these men have previously tested negative, so it is recommended that all sexually active MSM be tested for HIV at least once a year. MSM who engage in high-risk behaviors (unprotected anal sex with casual partners) should be tested more frequently. According to a CDC study, 55% of young men (aged 15–22) did not let other people know they were sexually attracted to men. MSM who do not disclose their sexual orientation are less likely to seek HIV testing. If they become infected, they are less likely to know it. MSM who do not disclose their sexual orientation are likely to have one or more female sex partners. MSM who become infected may transmit the virus to women as well as to men.
Race seems to be a factor in HIV/AIDS infection. African Americans were disproportionately affected by HIV infection, accounting for 55% of all HIV infections reported among persons aged 13–24. African American women were seven times as likely as white women and eight times as likely as Hispanic women to be HIV-positive.
Abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid HIV/AIDS infection. If you choose to have sex, the risk for HIV/AIDS isn’t equal for everyone. If you don’t have multiple partners of have sex with people who have multiple partners AND use condoms correctly and consistently, the odds of acquiring HIV are low.
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