Volume 9 Issue 129
Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 10-May-2007 
Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 11-May-2007

Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
© Vidyya.
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HIV/STI risk behaviors in delinquent youth: A community health problem

(10 May 2007: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- Results of a recent study of 800 juvenile detainees aged 10–18 finds that young people involved in the juvenile justice system are at great risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and this risk increases dramatically as they age. Because the majority of incarcerated youth return to their communities, HIV/STI risk behaviors among this population represent a public health concern for both the individual and the community.

Background: Few comprehensive studies examine HIV/STI risk behaviors in delinquent youth. Because youth are generally detained for short periods of time (2 weeks on average), their behaviors place persons in the community at increased risk. Therefore, HIV/STI risk behaviors in delinquent youth are not just a problem for the juvenile justice system, but are also a community public health problem.

Study Design: Scientists from Northwestern University School of Medicine interviewed 800 juvenile detainees aged 10 to 18 years. The research team examined behaviors associated with an increased risk for HIV/STI, including sex and injection risk behaviors.

Approximately 3 years later, 724 participants were reinterviewed (irrespective of where they lived—community, correctional facility, or residential placement facility) to assess changes in HIV/STI risk behaviors.

What They Found: More than 60 percent of the juvenile detainees had engaged in at least 10 risk behaviors at the baseline interview, and nearly two-thirds continued to engage in at least 10 risk behaviors at follow-up. Of particular concern is the fact that at follow-up, 44 percent of males and 62 percent of females had had recent unprotected sex. The scientists also observed that among juvenile detainees living in the community, HIV/STI risk behaviors were more prevalent at follow-up than at baseline, whereas

HIV/STI risk behaviors were less prevalent among detainees who were incarcerated at follow-up. Although the researchers found few racial and ethnic differences in risk behaviors, several differences were noted between male and female participants. Males had higher prevalence rates of HIV/STI risk behaviors and they were more likely to continue risky behaviors and develop new ones, compared to females. For females, injection risk behaviors were more prevalent, and they were also more likely to develop and continue engaging in injection risk behaviors.

Comments From The Authors: Our findings show that youth involved in the juvenile justice system continue to be at great risk for HIV/STIs as they age. We need to develop interventions tailored to fit specific patterns of risk and transmission. Because of the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who cycle through correctional facilities, the pediatrics community must focus on implementing culturally appropriate interventions for African-American youth and young adults.

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