There are many ways that a teen can contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). They might decide to get a tattoo, for instance. Through the use of improper or unsterile tattoo or piercing procedures, a teen is at risk for contracting Hepatitis or HIV. Or a teen might be sexually active. Risk factors such as having sex before the age of 13, having multiple partners, and/or not using protection during intercourse can also make a teen vulnerable to contracting HIV.
However, these are not the ways that 22 year-old Paige Rawl contracted the virus. She was born with it, but neither she nor her parents knew it at the time. Paige’s parents divorced when Paige was 2 years old. But before the divorce, her father began using cocaine and had an affair. Six months later, Paige’s mother was diagnosed with HIV and it wasn’t until Paige was three years old that her mother realized that Paige had been infected with the virus while in utero.
Today, Paige is one of many other teens working to fight against HIV stigma. In her case, she’s communicating to the world the need to stand up against HIV stigma. And she’ll do that in New York City soon. She’s one of five in the running to win Seventeen’s Pretty Amazing contest. Yet, even if she doesn’t win, her story will be published in the magazine’s cover story. In addition to the honor given to her by Seventeen magazine, Paige uses her diagnosis to educate teens and adults about what it’s like to live with the illness of HIV. She travels and speaks to audiences around the country hoping to put an end to HIV stigma.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is an organization that protects America from healthy, safety, and security threats – including protecting children, teens, and adults from contracting HIV. The CDC recognizes that there are many contributing factors that play a role in whether a teen is at risk for contracting the virus. And in an indirect way, mental illness is one of them. For instance, frequently, teens and even parents do not recognize that there is a mental health problem or psychological concern. What’s risky about this is that untreated mental illness can contribute to alcohol and drug use as well as unprotected sexual activity, among other dangerous behavior. Of course, drug use can put a teen at risk for unsafe use of hypodermic needles. And sexual activity puts a teen at risk for unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV.
There are thousands of teens who do not get the mental health they need and as a result may engage in drug use and/or sexual activity, putting themselves at risk for contracting HIV. However, it’s not just teens with untreated mental illness that are at risk. Any teen who chooses to participate in these risky behaviors may be vulnerable to HIV.
Contracting and living with HIV can be a frightening experiencing, not to mention the stigma that may come with it. Fortunately, Paige Rawl is spreading the word that even if you contract HIV, you can live a normal life.