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Author(s): Gregory L. Vogt, EdD, and Nancy P. Moreno, PhD.

HIV/AIDS in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than one million people in the United States are living with HIV. About one in five (21%) of these people are unaware of their HIV-positive status. It is not surprising, then, that each year, upwards of 56,000 more Americans become infected with HIV. And despite improved medications, more than 18,000 people in the U.S. die each year from AIDS-related causes.

The burdens of HIV/AIDS are not distributed equally across all segments of the U.S. population. Among racial/ ethnic groups, African Americans face the highest rates of infection. Hispanics/Latinos also have a disproportionately large representation among the population of Americans living with HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, many young people do not understand how HIV is transmitted or treated. This lack of knowledge, when combined with alcohol and/or drug use, can be especially dangerous for adolescents, who are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are “under the influence.” Improving students’ basic knowledge, understanding of risks, and decision-making skills can help reduce rates of teen pregnancy and infection by STDs, including HIV. In this activity, students will discuss common misconceptions and truths about HIV/AIDS, and will examine authentic CDC data about the epidemic in our country.


Announce to your students that they will be participating in a classroom HIV/AIDS research conference. 

Divide the class into teams and provide each team with the HIV/AIDS data tables you have selected. The data describe the incidence of new HIV infections for the United States in the years 2006, 2009, and the prevalence of AIDS in the U.S. in the year 2007. 

Challenge each team to review the data in the CDC tables and produce a graph, chart or some other document that illustrates the relationship between the data in two or more of the tables. Students should be careful to note whether a table is reporting data by percentage or raw number. Each team’s goal is to create a presentation on the HIV/AIDS pandemic as it relates to the U.S. Presentations should explain students’ observations clearly, in a way the entire class will be able to understand. If desired, the U.S. data can be related to worldwide numbers examined in the previous activity, “Mapping the Spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Discuss different ways to interpret and present the data through tables, graphs, diagrams etc. For example, students might elect to use graphs in the form of bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, etc. Also, allow students to be creative in their choices of media used to communicate their findings (e.g., posters, flip-charts, PowerPoint® artwork, video, etc.).

Help students understand how to read and compare the different tables. They will see the abbreviation, “N,” used to refer to the total number of subjects represented in a table.

Because different statistical methods were used to derive information for the tables, some tables relating to the same topic have different “N” values. For example, in some tables, the numbers for Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/ Alaska Native groups are too small to allow for accurate estimates. Consequently, totals for those racial/ethnic groups are not included in some tables, which reduces the tables’ “N” value.

The table presenting the incidence of new HIV infections presents data as a rate per 100,000. This means, as an example, that for each 100,000 Hispanic/Latino persons in the United States, 40 individuals acquired a new HIV infection in 2009. (Note: some tables present data as percentages rather than raw numbers.) 

Conduct a class “HIV/AIDS Research Conference,” during which students share their presentations, explain the data they used and present their conclusions.

Discuss each team’s findings with the entire class. Some of the questions below may help to promote student responses and learning. 

  • What do your data show? 
  • Based on the data, which groups are at greatest risk for contracting HIV? 
  • How do these totals relate to the population as a whole? 
  • Are males or females more likely to become infected with HIV? 
  • Is any age or racial/ethnic group untouched by HIV/AIDS? 
  • Why are HIV and AIDS reported separately in the tables? 
  • Is HIV transmission limited to homosexual contact? 

Sample conclusions

  • The prevalence of HIV infection in the U.S. is well below that in some nations, but it is nevertheless a major health issue in our country.
  • Although Black/African Americans make up only 13% of the total U.S. population, they accounted for a disproportionately high number (45%) of the new HIV infections in 2006.
  • While males are more likely than females to become infected with HIV, the increase in the rate of infection among Black/ African American females is the highest for all racial/ethnic groups. 
  • HIV and AIDS are reported separately in the tables because a person infected with HIV may not have AIDS. Without diagnosis and consistent medical treatment, the virus, HIV, leads to the disease, AIDS. Due to improved HIV detection and treatment, and to the deadly effects of AIDS itself, the number of people liv¬ing with HIV is much greater than the number living with AIDS.
  • The infection rate (per 100,000 people) for Black/African Americans is 7.5 times greater than the infection rate for white Americans. The rate of infection for Hispanic/Latino populations is 2.5 times greater than the rate for white Americans.

Note: Though CDC estimates have changed over time, the numbers used on the student sheets remain useful for this lesson.

Funded by the following grant(s)

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Grant Number: 5R25RR018605