HIV Infections on the Rise Among Young Generation
New HIV infections among young people are "surging," as the younger generation has not grown up witnessing the "devastation" of AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The increase in HIV/AIDS infections in Akron has involved several demographic groups -- young gay white men and young black men and women -- but the "common factor" is youth. Throughout Ohio, individuals between 25 and 39 years old were "nearly twice as likely" as other age groups to test HIV-positive in 1999 and represented 53% of new HIV cases that year. In comparison, the 40 to 49 age group accounted for 27.5% of new infections in 1999. HIV/AIDS counselors and outreach volunteers in Akron, Ohio, have observed the trend locally, although the "resurgence" of infections among young adults in the area is "still a relatively new phenomenon." Jackie Figler, executive director of Violet's Cupboard, a resource center for HIV-positive individuals, said, "We're definitely seeing a resurgence. I've been in this work for 16 years and it's like we're starting all over again."
According to AIDS activist Rick Lange, although young gay males have accounted for the sharpest rise in new HIV infections, "putting too much focus on young gay men can send the wrong message." Lange added, "We would not just be stereotyping young gay men, but we'd be giving a false sense of security to young heterosexual men and women who might think, 'Oh, it's just them.'" In addition, Akron's outreach efforts are encountering a recent trend in risky behavior: "gay men who plan to contract HIV." Janaris Alston, a case manager at Violet's Cupboard, said, "The majority of the men I've talked to say they're in a committed relationship but made the choice to have unprotected sex. It's almost like playing Russian roulette." And Steve Arrington, who runs The Brothers Circle, which targets HIV/AIDS prevention to Akron's black community, cited the challenge of reaching "black men who have sex with men, yet don't consider themselves gay or bisexual -- the very group representing the biggest threat to the black community." Arrington noted that these men engage in unprotected sex with men "and then return home to do the same with wives or girlfriends" (Wheeler, Akron Beacon Journal, 2/20).