Epidemiology and Transmission

Since the early 1980s, HIV infection has emerged as a major health problem for children in the United States and many other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that in 2000 more than 431,000 people in the United States were living with HIV, and that approximately 5,575 of these individuals were children under the age of thirteen. The World Health Organization estimated in 2000 that about 1,600 children around the world were becoming newly infected each day.

HIV lives in body fluids, such as blood and semen, and transmission occurs primarily through unprotected sex (both heterosexual and homosexual) and the injection of illicit drugs. The virus can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or at the time of delivery, but medical advances have led to a significant reduction in these cases because pregnant women are now encouraged to undergo voluntary HIV testing. If a woman is found to carry the virus, doctors can begin administering medication to her right away and to her infant after birth. The rate of transmission through contaminated blood or blood products (i.e., via transfusions) was high until 1985 when measures were put into place to ensure the safety of the blood supply in North America, Europe, and some other parts of the world. Transmission still occurs from an unsafe blood supply in some underdeveloped countries.

Originally, AIDS was viewed as a death sentence, with only 5 percent to 10 percent of people living for three years after diagnosis. Now, new medications have led to a dramatic decline in AIDS-related deaths. HIV is therefore seen as more of a chronic disease, similar to diabetes or cystic fibrosis. As a result, psychologists are focusing more on psychosocial issues in children who were infected early in life and are now living into adolescence and young adulthood.

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