- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How would you feel if you found out you were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS? Angela Parker, 21, of Laurel, says she would be upset, scared, disgusted and would not know what to do - except pray. She doesn’t have to worry, however, because she says she is not sexually active.

“[Having HIV/AIDS] would have a great effect on my life and whether I would even get married,” said Ms. Parker. “I would be very careful about who I slept with, and I would use protection.”

Marquis, 15, who lives in Northwest, says he is sexually active, and he is concerned about contracting the disease.

“I would be highly upset,” said Marquis, whose last name was withheld because of his age. “I wouldn’t have sexual intercourse again, because I wouldn’t want anyone else to catch the disease.”

Many teens and young adults like Marquis and Ms. Parker are afraid of contracting the HIV/AIDS virus because there are so many myths associated with the disease, its prevention and treatment.

Nine percent of all pediatric cases in the U.S. are in the District, which has the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the nation, according to the Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care Organization.

Kelly Keenan, the program coordinator of Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care Inc., in Southeast, explained the need for teachers, parents and other adults to educate teenagers and children about HIV/AIDS because of their misconceptions.

“Some of the teens and children often think they can’t play sports with their friends because they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Just because someone is diagnosed with HIV doesn’t mean you’ll get it by drinking water, playing games, or swimming with other teens and children who have the disease.”

Teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 make up 13 percent of the total number of individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those young adults ages 13 to 19 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, 68 percent are black, 19 percent are Hispanic, and 11 percent are white. Sixty percent of the youths ages 13 to 19 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are male, while 40 percent are female, according to the CDC. In 2007, there were 3,230 teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 19 reported to be living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Questions teens and children have about HIV/AIDS, Ms. Keenan said, include how they contract HIV/AIDS and how they tell their family and friends about being HIV positive .

Carmel Pryor, the social marketing manager for the Metro TeenAIDS organization, works with teens and young adults who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS to improve their quality of life. Metro TeenAIDs, in Southeast, is a community health organization dedicated to education, support and advocacy on behalf of young people in the fight to prevent the disease.

As part of the program, Ms. Pryor said they promote responsible decision making among teens.

She stressed the need for those who discover they are HIV-positive to contact a doctor immediately.

“Teens who have found out that they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS should get connected to a doctor immediately, and they should work with an advocate, which can be found at local health clinics,” said Ms. Pryor, who also suggested that teens talk to a mental health professional.

“Teens should work with the care advocate to see who else has the disease, as well as give a list of people whom they had sexual encounters with. They should also connect with many people to find out who else is positive in their social network,” she said.

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