As if the SAT's, ACT's, PSAT's, Driver's License Exam, and that weird scoliosis test where you have to stand topless behind a screen in the locker room wasn't enough, American teenagers have one more test to add to their to-do list: an HIV test.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that sexually active teenagers be screened for the virus that causes AIDS as a matter of course, according to a statement released this morning.
Teens currently engulfed in the throes of teenage hormone madness were born in the 1990's, which means that most of them don't remember the all-encompassing AIDS paranoia hoisted onto kids that came of age during the era of Weekly Reader special AIDS issues that explained that it was okay to hug people who had HIV, but that, in no uncertain terms, if you're going to have sex, you should wear a condom or risk catching a fatal disease (this knowledge was extraordinarily useful to people who were 8 in 1991). Some experts worry that without fear of imminent death lurking in everyone else's pants, teenagers are likely to engage in high risk behaviors that could lead to another wave of HIV infections.
By the time American teens are seniors in high school, 60% of them are sexually active (which means that it's entirely feasible that somewhere in America, a high school senior has a more interesting sex life than you, but then again, you never have to dissect a frog again if you don't want to). More than 55,000 people between 13 and 24 have the virus, and half of those people don't know that they have it. Previously, doctors recommended that everyone in a "high risk" group be tested, but now doctors are saying that testing teens may help prevent new infections, as modern treatment for HIV can prevent the virus from turning into AIDS for a long period of time and significantly improve the quality of life for HIV+ people.
Critics of the recommendation point out that the test sometimes yields false positive results and that, in other countries, mass HIV testing has only led to about 1 positive test result per 1,000 tests, throwing its cost effectiveness into question. There's also the issue of false positives leading to uninfected people receiving unnecessary treatment, but those only happen less than 1% of the time. Additionally, some pediatricians may hesitate to test their young patients for a sexually transmitted disease.
Experts can agree, at least, that an effective program of mass HIV prevention and testing will save America not only from another generation torn apart by AIDS, but also from future updated revivals of Rent featuring a new cast and a new attitude. Please, if only for the sake of the future of high school musicals, if doctors say you should, get tested.
Image via Biomedical/Shutterstock