Exposure to community violence may put the health of youth born with HIV infection at risk, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers. They found that children and youth with perinatal HIV (PHIV) who reported exposure to violence in the past year—34% of the nearly 300 U.S. youth studied— had a higher risk of having unsuppressed viral loads (uncontrolled HIV) and poorer immunological outcomes, compared with youth with PHIV without recent violence exposure.
The study, the first of its kind focused specifically on youth with PHIV, appeared in the July 2016 print edition of Journal of Adolescent Health. The paper was also featured in an editorial that appeared in the same issue.
The results are from the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS), a multi-site, long-term follow-up study of children, youth, and young adults in the U.S. exposed to HIV at birth or who have had HIV since birth. PHACS is funded by nine NIH Institutes and the NIH Office of AIDS Research.
The researchers analyzed data from 268 youth with perinatal HIV infection who were between the ages of 8 and 15. Recent violence exposure was defined as direct victimization or indirect exposure to at least one of seven types of violent acts in the youths’ communities in the past year, ranging from hearing gunshots in the neighborhood to sexual assault. Physical health outcomes of youth with PHIV who had recent violence exposure were compared to those of youth with PHIV with no recent violence exposure.
“These results highlight the need to identify and address violence exposure experiences among youth with perinatal HIV infection and their caregivers, which may reduce risks of HIV-associated complications and transmission of HIV,” wrote the authors, led by Deborah Kacanek, research scientist in the Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research at Harvard Chan School.
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