Although young people are acutely aware of the risks of HIV infection, most believe it won't happen to them, according to a survey of 12- to 34-year-olds conducted by CIRA researchers. That attitude prevails even though 20 percent of them have lost a friend or acquaintance to AIDS.

While only slightly more than half of the young people surveyed used condoms, almost 90 percent said they were not at risk of HIV infection. The survey, released in December by Yale and the MTV music television network, queried 770 people on their attitudes toward sex, health and AIDS.

“This study tells us that, despite the information that's out there, young people have not internalized the dangers of AIDS, drugs, alcohol and other health-related risks,” says Michael H. Merson, M.D., dean of public health and director of CIRA.

The study found that 45 percent of unmarried respondents have engaged in sex one or more times without using condoms. Of those unmarried respondents fewer than half use condoms when they have sex with a new person and 23 percent fail to use birth control. Yet 63 percent of the total survey cited condoms and safe sex as ways to prevent AIDS. Fifty-three percent of respondents used a condom the last time they had sex.

Although only 2 percent of whites considered themselves at risk for the virus, 16 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of African Americans said they were vulnerable to HIV infection.