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Teens and Sexually Transmitted Infectious Disease

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Sexually transmitted infectious diseases affect people of all racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. They can be transmitted among all sexually active people, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and through all sex acts. They can be passed to children during birth or sometimes by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. They create severe social, emotional, health, and economic burdens on individuals, families, and society as a whole.

It is estimated that 46 percent of American high school students have had sexual intercourse and therefore potentially are at risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B virus (HBV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and trichomoniasis. (CDC, 2013) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, with young people age 15 to 24 accounting for 50 percent of all new Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) - even though they represent only 25 percent of the sexually experienced population.

The new data published by the CDC in 2013 estimates that there are more than 110 million STIs among men and women in the United States; including new and existing infections. The United States has the highest rate of Sexually Transmitted Disease Infection in the industrialized world, with human papillomavirus (HPV) accounting for the majority of STIs. One in four teens will contract an STD/STI every year. Additionally, statistics tell us that about 75 percent of all reported cases of gonorrhea are in people age 15 to 29, with the highest infection rates found in teen girls age 15 to 19; the annual number of new infections is roughly equal among male and female teens, with 51 percent for females and 49 percent for males. Less than half of adults age 18 to 44 have ever been tested for an STD other than HIV/AIDS. (CDC, 2013)

One good statistic is that 6 in 10 sexually active high school teens reported using condoms during their most recent sexual intercourse, BUT, that means that 40 percent did not! Why do not more teens use condoms? Are young women on oral contraceptives aware that they may be protected against pregnancy but not infection? Do they know that AIDS is deadly and that Herpes has no cure? Perhaps they may hear the lecture, but adolescent thinking does not allow them to see themselves as possible victims of such tragedy. Additionally, socio-cultural taboos and conflicting sources or inadequate information are impediments to healthy behavior choices.

The risks of these infectious diseases are very real, the consequences are high and can include death, yet many of our children are not informed of these realities. Misinformation and an avoidance of education about sexuality and the responsibilities that come with sexual activity are making our young population easy targets for STIs. While everyone can agree that the best way to avoid exposure is to remain abstinent and that encouraging our youth to consider that course is admirable, the truth remains that our youth are sexually active and therefore exposed – and as a community, we have an obligation to educate everyone about the facts and the options and we need to assist those who are in the line of fire.

In addition to the toll on mental and physical health, STI treatment costs the American health care system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs alone. (CDC, 2013) How much better it would be to spend some of that money on prevention tactics! We need to increase awareness of STIs and implement behavioral interventions that promote condom use, such as making avenues available to secure prophylactics without censure.

(CDC) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 05 Mar. 2013

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