As mentioned previously, medical advances have led to a decrease in the number of infants born with HIV. Despite this encouraging trend, the CDC estimated that more than 5,500 children under age thirteen were living with HIV or AIDS in the United States in 2000. Among adolescents thirteen to nineteen years of age, the number of AIDS cases reported each year has increased from 1 case in 1981 to 310 (3,865 cumulative) in 2000. Of even more concern is
that many young adults with AIDS almost certainly acquired their infection as teenagers. Throughout adolescence, teenagers often feel a sense of invulnerability and may therefore engage in risky behaviors such as drug use and unsafe sex. Alarmingly, it has been estimated that more than 80 percent of teenagers infected with HIV use condoms inconsistently, and many of these adolescents probably do not tell their partners about their diagnosis. Furthermore, sharing a single contaminated needle can infect many users and, hence, their sexual partners.
Mental health professionals can play an important role in the prevention of HIV by providing information about safer sex, drug use, and other means of transmission. School programs focused on self-esteem building and assertiveness training have been shown to help teenagers navigate the complex interpersonal situations that can place them at risk for acquiring HIV. Mental health professionals can also work with parents, encouraging them to foster an environment of open communication in the home.
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