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Risk of Youths Contracting AIDS Virus Is Seen on Rise

November 06, 1987|MARLENE CIMONS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Evidence on the sexual and drug-using behavior of American teen-agers indicates that they may be at increased risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS, according to a new report released Thursday.

In one of the most extensive examinations of teen-age behavior as it relates to AIDS, the Washington-based Center for Population Options said half of the boys and one-third of the girls in the nation's high schools have had sexual intercourse, and the average age of their first experience is around 16.

Also, the study said, one in seven teen-agers annually contracts a sexually transmitted disease. The center conservatively estimated that about 200,000 teen-agers have used intravenous drugs.

"Thousands of teen-agers are at risk of contracting (the virus) that causes AIDS because they engage in risky sexual behaviors or drug use or both," the study said. "An immediate, concerted campaign to educate the nation's young people about AIDS is urgently needed."

Use of Contraceptives

The center, a national organization concerned with adolescent sexuality and health, also estimated that only one-third of sexually active teen-agers use contraception regularly and less than one-fourth of those who practice contraception use condoms.

AIDS, which destroys the immune system and leaves the body helpless against otherwise rare infections, is caused by a virus most commonly spread through sexual intercourse and the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles. In this country, it has afflicted mostly homosexual and bisexual males, intravenous drug users and their sexual partners.

"Our work in the area of teen pregnancy prevention has long demonstrated . . . teen-agers' involvement in unprotected sexual activity and their general lack of planning for the future," said Judith Senderowitz, executive director of the center. "These patterns, unfortunately, may make teen-agers . . . very vulnerable to infection with AIDS."

Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services Department announced Thursday that it will award $5.4 million in grants to communities to provide pregnancy care and prevention services to teen-agers. The grants, funded under the Adolescent Family Life program, will be given to 44 new demonstration projects in 29 states, including one at UC San Diego.

Preventing Sex Activity

"Our concern about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases makes prevention of early sexual activity an increasingly important objective," Dr. Robert E. Windom, assistant secretary for health, said in a statement.

Thus far, AIDS has been diagnosed in 184 youths aged 13 through 19, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. That figure represents less than 1% of the 44,757 cases nationwide, the CDC said.

However, AIDS has been diagnosed in 9,377 young adults aged 20 through 29, the agency said. Because the incubation period between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms can be quite long--up to seven years or more--many young adults with the disease presumably were infected with the virus as adolescents, the agency said.

Citing existing data, the report also said:

--About 1 million teen-agers run away from home each year and an estimated 187,500 runaways are involved in illegal activities, such as drug use and drug trafficking and prostitution, and an estimated 125,000 to 200,000 teen-age boys and girls become involved in prostitution each year.

--More than 1% of high school seniors report that they have used heroin and "use is clearly higher among those who have dropped out of school."

--Teen-agers may also be sharing needles "for reasons besides i.v. drug use. Many teen girls pierce each other's ears and the same needle may be used by several girls at a session." Tattooing may also involve the sharing of needles, and "some teen athletes may illegally obtain steroids for home injections."

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