TRAVIS COUNTY -- The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is investigating an increase in the number of teens being diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). There have been nearly as many teens diagnosed in the last few months as there were for the entire last year.
It's a phase most teenagers go through -- feeling invincible.
"I was one of those people who said it could never happen to me. I was a teen," said Joseph Duarte.
Duarte was diagnosed with HIV at 19.
"I realized that I wasn't invincible anymore," Duarte recalled.
He contracted the virus after having sex.
"I would say I had a lack of education, lack of knowledge, based on what I didn't learn in school. So I guess that lead me to explore life by myself."
Eleven years later, medical experts say that same lack of sex education exists among teens, and now it's being blamed for a recent spike in HIV cases in Travis County.
In the past few months, five high school students under the age of 18, have been diagnosed with the virus.
"In the entire last year, we saw six cases, so in this just short of time, you know, we're conducting an ongoing investigation. We've identified five confirmed positive HIV cases," said Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Medical Director Phil Huang, M.D.
Because HIV can sometimes have no symptoms in its early stages, there could be more cases in the area. Doctors say parents need to realize just how many teens are having sex.
A survey was conducted among Texas high school students in 2011. It found that 52 percent of them have had sex at least once. Seven percent of them had sex before the age of 13. Of the students surveyed, 17 percent had four or more partners, yet only 54 percent of the teens used a condom the last time they had sex.
Adding to the severity of the issue, Dr. Huang says some teens are misguided about the definition of sex.
"There needs to be more education because there is some more confusion among adolescents. Some think that oral or anal sex is not actually sex, and so you know, certainly those are risk factors for transmission of HIV and also other STDs," said Huang.
"I think we're afraid, especially in the South, in the Bible Belt area if you will, to talk about sex," added Duarte, who now trains health care professionals on HIV and AIDS at H.I.V. Connection. "It's still taboo. Parents are afraid to talk to their children about sex."
Duarte and Huang highly recommend that all sexually-active teenagers be tested for HIV. The Health Department's sexually transmitted diseases clinic, STD Clinic located at 15 Waller Street, provides confidential testing for $20. Click here for more information on that clinic.
Testing is also available free of charge at many locations around the Austin area. Call 972-5580 for an appointment.