Women's Health

STD's Affect 26 Percent of Female Teens

By: Drucilla Dyess
Published: Monday, 24 March 2008
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On March 11th, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released results of a study that show startling statistics for female teens: One of every four teenage girls has at least one sexually transmitted disease (STD). That translates to about 3 million teenage girls in the United States. The study found that African-American girls are the most affected as almost 50 percent have an STD, compared to 20 percent of white teen girls and 20 percent of Mexican girls. The infection rate was 40 percent among all girls who admitted to being sexually active.

The girls participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an annual study that assesses a broad range of health issues. Study participants were chosen at random with standard statistical techniques. Of the 838 girls surveyed, 26 percent tested positive for STDs while only about half of the girls acknowledged having sex. Some teens define sex as intercourse, but other types of intimate behavior including oral sex can spread some diseases. The age range of the study group was 14-19 years. Of those participants who were infected, 15 percent had more than one STD.

The findings and treatment recommendations were available to the participants by calling a password-protected telephone line. Three reminders were sent to participants who did not call. Health officials recommend treatment for all sex partners of those individuals diagnosed with curable sexually transmitted diseases.

The four sexually transmitted diseases surveyed were Human Papillomavirus ( HPV), Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, and Herpes. If left untreated, these diseases can lead to the risk of infertility, cervical cancer, and other serious conditions as well as an increased risk for passing an STD on to offspring. HPV was by far the most common disease in the survey.

Chlamydia and Trichamoniasis can be treated with antibiotics while Herpes and HPV are much harder to treat. Therefore the emphasis should be on prevention through protection. Doctors urge all teenagers to get the HPV vaccine.

The study results brought a mixed reaction from health care providers with some finding the results disturbing, yet not surprising. Some doctors said the numbers could reflect the shortcoming of both abstinence-only sex education and teens' own sense of invulnerability.

Dr. Sara Forhan, a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the study's lead author, stated, "What we found is alarming. This means that far too many young women are at risk for the serious health effects of untreated STDs, including infertility and cervical cancer." More disturbing is that many teenagers may not even know they have a disease or that they are passing it to their sex partners.

"It shows that what people have always suspected is true," said Dr. Emily J. Erbelding, an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "Sexually transmitted infections have been called a hidden epidemic because a lot of these conditions are going to be asymptomatic when they're diagnosed, but they're highly common."

Dr. Ligia Peralta, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children in Baltimore called the CDC study "critical information for parents" and encouraged them to use this knowledge to be sure their daughters are being properly screened and taught about protection and prevention.

Officials of the CDC said the findings underscored the need to strengthen screening, vaccination and other prevention measures for the diseases, which are among the highest public health priorities.

Health officials recommend annual screening tests to detect Chlamydia for sexually active women younger than 25 and also recommend that women between the ages of 11 to 26 be vaccinated against HPV.

According to a report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), latex condoms are highly effective at preventing infection by Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, HIV, Gonorrhea and Hepatitis B, but less effective against genital Herpes and Syphilis, and protection against Human Papillomavirus is partial at best.

There are 19 million sexually transmitted diseases in the United States – that cost the healthcare system $15 billion a year - with almost half occurring among the 14-to-25 age group accodring to Dr. Kevin Fenton of the CDC. Officials described STDs as a public health epidemic and stated that efforts must be made to improve screening, education, and other prevention strategies for sexually active teens.