In the past five years, about a dozen Utah high school students or recent graduates have been diagnosed with HIV.
HIV infections among young Utahns have increased slightly, according to new data, just as the state's total number of new infections has ticked up.
"Is that enough to say [it's] a trend? Maybe not, but it's something for us to watch," said Matthew Mietchen, the Utah Department of Health's HIV epidemiologist.
He said the data support the anecdotal reports from HIV providers who say "they are seeing more youth diagnosed."
In 2011, 94 Utahns were diagnosed with HIV, seven more than 2010 but still lower than the 128 cases in 2009.
Last year, 20 percent of the new HIV cases, or 19 infections, were found among youths, defined as ages 13 to 24. That's the highest proportion in the past decade. Youths made up 13 percent of the HIV cases from 2006 to 2009.
And looking at the past five years, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds who developed HIV rose to 14, five more than in the previous five years. No youths ages 13 or 14 have been diagnosed with HIV since at least 2002.
Mietchen said the highest rate of HIV infections is among 20-somethings. Almost 40 percent of the new cases last year were in that age category. It's an "extremely young age to be diagnosed with HIV," he said.
A new national report on HIV found youths made up nearly 26 percent of the new infections in 2010 and that a majority of all youths living with HIV 60 percent didn't know they were infected.
The national data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed most of the new HIV infections were among men who have sex with men. That is also true of the new infections among Utah youths.
The CDC report cites other research showing that men who have sex with men are at higher risk of infection in part because of stigma, discrimination, alcohol and drug use, along with having unprotected sex with older male partners.
To reduce the disease among youths, the CDC calls for evidence-based sex education in schools, which teaches teens about HIV, helps them delay sexual activity and increases condom use among the sexually active. Utah public schools do not use what the CDC considers evidence-based education because teachers are not allowed to advocate the use of contraceptives.
The CDC also urges schools to promote inclusive environments for "sexual minorities" to reduce stigma and discrimination. And it promotes routine HIV screening of everyone ages 13 to 64. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening of all youths by age 16 to 18 and all sexually active youths no matter the age.
Teresa Garrett, director of disease control and prevention at the Utah Department of Health, supports routine testing.
"The more normal it is to have one of these tests," she said, "the more people we'll diagnose, the fewer people will slip through the cracks and everyone will be healthier."
World AIDS Day events
P These free events are scheduled for Saturday:
10 a.m. • The Salt Lake Valley Health Department will host a screening of "The Announcement" at the Salt Lake City Main Library. The documentary follows the life of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and the role he has played in HIV/AIDS awareness. The Salt Lake Film Society will also screen the film at the Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
1:30 p.m. • A balloon release will raise a World AIDS Day banner into the air at the Salt Lake City Main Library.
5:30 p.m. • The Utah AIDS Foundation, Salt Lake City and the Downtown Alliance will host the official Salt Lake City RED event on the west side of Salt Lake City Hall, 451 S. State St., including a bell ceremony marking the red lighting of City Hall.
HIV testing in Salt Lake County
HIV testing is regularly available on a walk-in basis at the following locations:
Salt Lake Valley Health Department City Clinic • 610 S. 200 East. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $25. 385-468-4242. Other STD testing is also available.
Utah AIDS Foundation • 1408 S. 1100 East. Mondays and Thursdays, 5-7 p.m. Free. 801-487-2323. Other STD testing is also available.
Utah Pride Center • 361 N. 300 West. First and third Wednesday, 5-7 p.m. Free. 801-539-8800.