Children of women with HIV are at risk of infection during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Many children and youths now living with HIV were infected at birth. Effective drugs against HIV now allow these children to survive and grow into adulthood.
In the United States, new infections at birth are now very rare because of drugs that pregnant women can take that can block HIV transmission to the child. It is important to start these drugs early in pregnancy. In parts of the world where pregnant women do not have access to these drugs, the rate of infection among infants is much higher. Read more about mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Among older children and youth, unprotected sexual activity can lead to new infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, adolescents and young adults engage in risky behaviors that may increase their risk of HIV infection. These include:
- Unprotected sex. Having sex without a condom is common among teens who are sexually active.
- Early sex. Almost half of high school seniors have had sex.
- Sex with older partners or with a number of partners. This may increase teens’ infection risk.
- Not knowing HIV status. Youths who are at the highest risk of infection (males who have sex with males and minority youth) are not only more likely to be infected, they are also the most likely to not get tested for HIV. This risks their own health and the health of people with whom they have sex.
A study co-funded by the NICHD and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that American children with HIV are surviving in greater numbers than ever before. Due to anti-HIV drugs, the number of deaths among children with HIV has dropped to one-ninth of its former level. However, children with HIV are still 30 times more likely to die than other children. Organ failure and kidney disease are often responsible. Read more about this study.
The CDC collects detailed data on the HIV epidemic in the United States. It has more information on HIV and youth in the United States.