28% of young adults say they wouldn’t hug someone living with HIV

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A new survey has shown an alarming lack of understanding of HIV among millennials and Gen Z. 

In a first of its kind survey and part of a joint project with Merck and the HIV initiative Prevention Access Campaign, Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead unveiled frighteningly low levels of accurate information about HIV transmission among members of these generations.

Related: Young people are a lot more accepting of transgender equality than older Americans 

One key finding: 23% of HIV-negative millennials claimed to be either not at all informed or only somewhat informed about HIV. Gen Z respondents were at 41%.

This lack of understanding led 28% of HIV negative young adults to admit they have avoided hugging, talking to, or being friends with someone with HIV.

HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact.

“Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” said Prevention Access Campaign founding executive director Bruce Richman in a press release.  

Additionally, 67% of HIV-negative millennial and Gen Z respondents said they were more concerned about HIV than other sexually transmitted infections. Yet more than half of those surveyed were not using condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

On the other side of the equation, a staggering 90% of those who are HIV positive have avoided sharing their status for fear of losing friends and family, or worries about experiencing emotional, mental, physical abuse.

Thirty-nine percent of Gen Z and 28% of millennials living with HIV indicated that being HIV positive caused them to have trouble forming new romantic or sexual relationships due, while 84% of Gen Z and 65% of millennial respondents living with HIV abstain from sex as a result.

Additionally, 75% of millennials and 60% of Gen Z said they contracted HIV through sex without condoms or PrEP.

“These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over,” said Richman. “It’s time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America’s young people, and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma.”

The study was held from June 17 to August 5, 2019, and included 1595 millennial (age 23 to 36) and Gen Z (age 18 to 22) people. Each self-reported as HIV-positive or negative. 

The majority of new HIV diagnoses are among young people, and while new diagnoses remained largely stable from 2012 and 2016, they increased for those aged 25 and 29 during those years.

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