More than one-quarter of HIV-negative millennials report that they avoid hugging, talking, or being friends with someone who is HIV-positive, according to a new study from the Prevention Access Campaign and the phamaceutical company Merck.
The study uncovered widespread ignorance and stigma from young people when it comes to HIV. Thirty percent of HIV-negative millennials (people between the ages of 23 and 36) said they would prefer not to interact socially with someone with HIV. One in three Black and Latinx millennials reported avoiding even shaking hands or sharing drinks or utensils with someone with HIV. In reality, the disease cannot be spread through casual contact.
The study also included members of Generation Z, finding that 41 percent of people aged 18-22 were either not at all informed or somewhat informed about HIV, compared to 23 percent of millennials.
In response to the findings — culled during the summer of 2019 among nearly 1,600 generation Z and millennial individuals — Merck and the Prevention Access Campaign launched a campaign entitled "Owning HIV: Young Adults and the Fight Ahead."
"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," Bruce Richman, executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign and the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable campaign, said in a statement. "These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the United States is far from over. 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."
New HIV diagnoses in the U.S. remained stable between 2012 and 2016, but rose among people aged 25-29.
The survey from Merck and the Prevention Access Campaign also found that a majority of generation Z and millennial individuals are unfamiliar with the term "undetectable" and the phrases "undetectable equals untransmittable" and "U=U." The terms refer to the fact that people living with HIV on treatment who reach and maintain an undetectable viral load have no risk of transmitting HIV sexually.