We all want to keep our children as healthy as possible. That’s why we teach them about eating good food, staying active, and adopting healthy habits. But as children get older, parents need to consider helping them learn about taking care of their sexual health and wellbeing, too.
According to the latest data from the CDC, about 21% of all new HIV diagnoses are people under the age of 24. Further, 95% of diagnoses among young men and 86% of diagnoses for young women were a result of sexual contact.
One reason the rate of HIV among youth is growing so quickly is due to a lack of knowledge regarding risk factors, how HIV is transmitted, and how to protect themselves and others. Talking about HIV with your kids can be uncomfortable, but it is essential. Here are some tips to help you learn more about youth and HIV yourself and talk to your children about prevention and protection.
Learning the Basics about HIV Transmission
First and foremost, parents should familiarize themselves with HIV transmission so they can explain it to their children. There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about HIV, transmission, and the progression of HIV to AIDS. Sadly, this stems from cultural bias that began in the 80s and continued throught he height of the AIDS crisis.
Today, scientists know vastly more about HIV, transmission, and treatment. Parents should educate themselves on some of the basic facts about HIV before they talk to their children so they can share accurate information.
For starters, what is HIV?
HIV (human immune-deficiency virus) is a virus, meaning that once the cells enter the body, it triggers an immune response. Viruses reproduce by overtaking healthy cells, which suppress the immune system. If HIV is left untreated, it can eventually cause permanent damage to the host’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable to other diseases like pneumonia, heart disease, and even cancer.
So, it is very important to get tested for HIV as soon as possible after potential exposure. When the virus is caught early enough, HIV is controlled through medication that suppresses the viral load, preventing the progression to AIDS. This is known as PEP or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis. If taken within 72 hours of exposure, it can prevent transmission altogether.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV can only be transmitted from one person to another through bodily fluids, primarily blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. HIV is most commonly spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, as well as through shared intravenous needles.
The most important thing for parents to understand about youth and HIV is that education is arguably the best way to protect your kids. By learning a bit about HIV prevention, you can share this information and help your children, too.
Talk Openly About HIV Prevention Methods
Starting the conversation about HIV prevention can be uncomfortable – but it is crucial, especially if you think your child could be at high risk for transmission. The more open you are with your kids about the subject, the more likely they will be to listen and share.
How Can HIV be Prevented?
The best way to protect your children from engaging in high-risk behaviors is to speak openly about prevention methods. Again, HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected (i.e. condomless) sexual intercourse or shared needles, such as tattoos, piercings, or syringes.
Whether you know for sure if your children are sexually active or using needles, you should convey the importance of using condoms and never sharing needles with other people.
Also, encourage and talk to your children about getting regularly tested for STDs and HIV. Medical professionals encourage anyone above the age of 13 to be tested for HIV and have an annual test if they are sexually active. For youth in higher-risk categories, such as gay or bisexual males, the CDC recommends testing every 3 to 6 months.
HIV and AIDS Prevention Methods
Finally, be sure to discuss HIV prevention methods with your kids. Using condoms for all types of sexual intercourse (including oral) is one of the best ways to prevent HIV and other STD transmissions. Routine testing is also important. Encourage your children to talk to their own sexual partners about getting tested and communicating their status.
Finally, you might want to talk to your child and their doctor about additional HIV and AIDS prevention methods like medication – known as PrEP.
Learn about PrEP Medication Together
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication regimen that helps to prevent transmission before an exposure. The FDA approved this medication in 2012 and some medications are approved for patients as young as 12.
Who Should Take PrEP?
If your kids are in a high-risk category or if they have had a scare, then it may be a good idea for them to talk to a doctor about taking PrEP. This medication is a daily pill that will prevent the virus from reproducing. When taken as directed, PrEP is up to 99% effective. So, if the person is exposed, their risk of transmission is extremely low.
What Do I Need to Know About PrEP Medication?
As with any medication, you will need to consult a doctor first to see if it is the right choice for the patient. Currently, there are two forms of FDA-approved PrEP medication: Truvada and Descovy. Both medications are equally as effective but have some varying side effects. Further, Descovy is only approved for cisgender males and transgender females, while Truvada is approved for all sexes.
People often experience some side effects during the “start-up period of taking PrEP – these often pass after a few weeks. The most common symptoms include:
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
When taken daily, PrEP is effective at preventing HIV transmission in as little as 7 days. This can provide parents and their children peace of mind to know they are protected from transmission.
Is Medication Available if You Are HIV+?
Anti-retroviral drugs (ART) are given to patients who are HIV positive to help suppress their viral load or the number of virus cells in the body. Over time, it can suppress the viral load so it is undetectable in a blood test – and therefore, it cannot be transmitted to another person. This is known as U=U – or undetectable = untransmittable.
Learn More Basic Facts about HIV and Prevention
Talking about this subject with your kids isn’t easy, but it can help them stay protected. In turn, this will help to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses among youth significantly.
Here at Side by Side, our goal is to end HIV together by offering education, resources, and support. We are here to answer questions you might have about HIV, getting testing, and PrEP, and other prevention options.
Get connected with our team today – we’d love to help you find out more and get you in touch with services in your area for HIV treatment and prevention.