AIDS Virus Becoming More Common Among At-Risk Youths, Studies Find

By Ellen Flax — November 13, 1991 3 min read

The virus that causes AIDS has become increasingly common among socioeconomically disadvantaged adolescents, two new reports suggest.

The two studies also found that, among adolescents, females are almost as likely to test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus as are males.

The findings, if true in communities besides those studied in the new reports, would radically change the course of AIDS transmission in this; country. Among other conclusions, the findings suggest that the virus is increasingly being spread through heterosexual activity and that more and more babies will be infected with the virus at birth.

According to federal data, for every female ages 16 to 24 with AIDs, there are five males with the disease. Among adults, nine times as many men have the disease as do females.

The first study, which appears in the Nov. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 488 of the 137,209 students ages 16 to 21 who entered the Job Corps program over a 2 1/2-year period tested positive for the AIDS virus.

Of all the students who entered the Job Corps--a federal training program for disadvantaged, out-of-school youths--3.6 per 1,000 tested positive. Over all, males were more likely to test positive than females 3.7 per 1,000 for males, compared with 3.2 per 1,000 for females.

The overall finding of 3.6 positive results per 1,000 is 10 times higher than the rate found in an earlier study of military applicants who were under the age of 21.

The military study and the new study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Job Corps, are the only large, population-based surveys of the rate of H.I.V. infection in youths in the United States.

“Because of their relative high prevalence of H.I.V. infection and the large population they may represent, Job Corps students are an important sentinel population for monitoring H.I.V. infection in young people in the . United States,” the new study said.

While black and Hispanic males from large, Northeastern cities were particularly likely to test positive for the virus, or 1 in 40 by the time they were 21, Job Corps participants from rural areas and small cities in the Southeast were found to be disproportionately likely to have the virus.

Among students ages 16 and 17, girls were more likely to test positive than were beys, but by age 19, the male rate was higher, the study said.

Further, the H.I.V. infection rates among female Job Corps students from Florida, 13.6 per 1,000, and from Georgia, 11.3 per 1,000, were higher than the rates for males from any other state, and were nearly twice as high as the rates for males from the same two states, the study found.

The authors found that the higher rates among females across the entire study were consistent with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which are far more common in young women than among young males.

Higher Rates Among Girls

In the second study, which appeared in this month’s Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, similar rates of the virus were found in teenagers who were receiving routine medical care at the Children’s Hospital National Medical Center in Washington.

The teenagers, ages 13 to 19, were anonymously tested for the virus when they had their blood drawn for other medical procedures between October 1987 and January 1989. The researchers found that the overall rate of infection during the 16-month period was 3.7 per 1,000.

Girls, who made up about two-thirds of the 3,520 teenagers who were tested, had a higher rate of infection than did boys 4.7 per 1,000, compared with 1.7 per 1,000.

The adolescents, almost 90 percent of whom were black and many of whom were poor, were more likely to test positive for the virus as they got older. Among youths younger than age 15, the study found, 1.7 per 1,000 had the virus, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 of the teenagers ages 15 to 18.

Of the 122 teenagers who were identified as being particularly at risk for the disease because they had engaged in risky behaviors, 4.1 percent had the virus. Among high-risk girls, 5.2 percent had the virus, the study found.

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 1991 edition of Education Week as AIDS Virus Becoming More Common Among At-Risk Youths, Studies Find