About 20 percent of teens don't know about their positive HIV status when they engage in sexual activities for the first time, National Institutes of Health reports

Almost 10,000 people in the U.S. are HIV positive at or before birth, says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of these teens have reported to have engaged in unprotected sex. Parents and caregivers often decide to tell the child that he/she is HIV positive only after the child reaches adolescence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that physicians discuss the issue of disclosing the child's HIV status with the parent or caregiver. Safe-sex practices are especially important for these children as they are at a greater risk of passing the infection and getting a sexually transmitted infection.

"Our findings show that these young people act very much like their HIV-negative counterparts across the country. However, because of their HIV status, it is extremely important for health care providers, school counselors and family members to reinforce the importance of practicing safe sex, taking medication regularly and disclosing HIV status to potential partners," said Rohan Hazra, M.D., of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The study included 330 HIV-positive 10- to 18-year-olds. Participants had to complete a computer-guided questionnaire twice a year that included questions regarding their sexual activity.

Data analysis showed that teens in the study became sexually active at around the age of 14 and about a third of these teens had told about their HIV status to their partners.

Researchers found that about 62 percent of these teens had at least one episode of unprotected sex with their partners. Also, teens who regularly took their medications were less likely to engage in risky sex than those who did not.

"Adolescence introduces many complications into children's lives, and those of HIV-positive youth especially. As more HIV-positive infants survive childhood and become sexually active teens, it becomes increasingly important to emphasize how healthy behaviors can protect these teens, as well as their partners," said Susannah Allison, of the Infant, Child and Adolescent HIV Prevention Program at NIMH and co-author of the study.