Few young Americans tested for common STD's

New data indicate the average age of people who are tested for chlamydia, the most reported sexually transmitted disease (STD), is 28.9 for women and 30.5 for men, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 79 percent of new infections annually are in people between ages 15 and 24.

The American Social Health Association (ASHA) released these data as part of National STD Awareness Month urging anyone who is sexually active to get tested for STDs. The data summarize millions of chlamydia tests performed in 2005 by Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, the nation's leading provider of diagnostic testing and services.

"Young people are at the greatest risk for STDs, yet these data show the disparity which exists in getting this vulnerable patient population tested," said Peter Leone, MD, Medical Director, North Carolina HIV/STD Prevention and Control Branch, Department of Health and Human Services. "ASHA's campaign will boost awareness about the health risks associated with oral, anal and vaginal sex and encourage those who are sexually active to get tested in an effort to reduce the spread of STDs."

According to the CDC, one in four sexually active teens contracts a STD annually and one in two sexually active people will contract one by age 25. Furthermore, half of all new STD and HIV infections are in people under 25.

"Many of my teenage patients do not realize that they can get STDs through oral sex," said Dr. Leone. "This behavior is becoming increasingly common in this age group, so we have to educate young people that oral sex is a significant contributor to the spread of STDs."

An estimated 65 million Americans are infected with STDs. Current estimates show that nearly 19 million occur each year with almost half of them among youths ages 15 to 24. Like other common STDs, chlamydia typically has mild symptoms or none at all, yet it poses a great threat to women.(1) If left untreated, up to 40 percent of women with chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease which can result in infertility.(2)

"Only about one-third of physicians regularly screen patients for STDs, which may be because they do not have a thorough understanding of a person's sexual history," said Dr. Leone. "Physicians must have an open dialogue with patients about their sexual behavior, so doctors know what tests to perform."

The "get teSTeD" campaign conveys important information about sexually transmitted diseases and offers a free brochure entitled "STDs, The Real Deal," to encourage people to visit a doctor or an STD clinic and get tested, if they are sexually active. The brochure gives advice to people who might otherwise feel uncomfortable talking about sex and STDs with their doctor. It also lists information about what tests to ask for, testing sites and how teens can protect themselves through the use of condoms.

A biennial study released in November 2005 by the Kaiser Family Foundation called "Sex on TV 4," reported that among the 20 most watched shows by teens, 70 percent included sexual content, and nearly half included sexual behavior. Additionally, only ten percent of the shows with sexual content included a reference to sexual risk or responsibilities at some point in the episode.

"Young people are bombarded with sexual imagery and content everyday through the media, yet we are not giving them the facts they need to protect themselves against STDs," said James R. Allen, MD, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer of ASHA. "Get teSTeD is a continuation of ASHA's long term commitment to help arm young people with the information they need to protect their overall health and boost awareness among the medical community about the need to test and ultimately protect anyone who is sexually active."

  1. Weinstock H, Berman S, Cates W. Sexually transmitted diseases among American youth: incidence and prevalence estimates, 2000. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2004;36(1):6-10.
  2. Rein D, Kassler W, Irwin K, Rabiee L. Direct medical cost of pelvic inflammatory disease and its sequelae: decreasing, but still substantial. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 95(3):397-402, 2000 March.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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