A suburban school in St. Louis has come face to face with the reality of HIV after discovering that as many as 50 of its students may have been exposed to the virus.
According to the AP, "The St. Louis County Health Department said last week that a positive HIV test raised concern that students at Normandy [high school] might have been exposed. The department is not saying whether the infected person was a student or connected with the school, only that the person indicated as many as 50 students may have been exposed.
The Health Department also will not say how any exposure might have occurred. Health Department spokesman Craig LeFebvre has said the possibilities include sexual activity, intravenous drug use, piercings and tattoos."
Citing a need for privacy, the school is not revealing many details about the situation. However, I hope they are taking steps beyond just offering testing. This is an important time for sex education.
Unlike a lot of medical conditions, HIV can actually be prevented. That’s true even if someone is sexually active, uses drugs, or gets a piercing or tattoo.
But in order to prevent the virus, people have to know how it is spread (mainly by having vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom, or by sharing needles for drugs, tattoos or piercings) and what spreads it (semen, vaginal fluids, blood and breast milk).
With the discovery of newer and better HIV meds and a shift in viewing the infection more as a chronic lifelong condition than as a death sentence, it can seem as if the AIDS crisis is a relic of another era.
But as the situation in St. Louis reminds us, this is a dangerous attitude to take. Well over a million Americans live with the virus, and experts estimate that of those, 16 to 30 percent are young people between 13 and 24.
So while HIV has beome more manageable, it sure hasn’t become a history lesson.