Teen STD Cases Rise in St. Louis

Cases of sexually transmitted diseases are getting more frequent across the St. Louis area, most notably among teenagers and young adults.

A recent study shows that the number of chlamydia cases in the city of St. Louis climbed from 3,206 in 2002 to 4,581 in 2006. Of those cases, 41 percent were people 15 to 19 years old.

Meanwhile, in the St. Louis County, 7,100 residents were diagnosed in 2006 with either chlamydia or gonorrhea, up from 4,821 in 2002. About 70 percent of them were 15 to 24 years old. The two diseases account for almost two-thirds of all communicable diseases that were reported in the county, even more than common ailments such as influenza and chicken pox.

In that same study, 90 percent of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in St. Louis area are African-American, which worried health officials. Minority youths are among those with the highest risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease.

Left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility and other complications. And when the rates of various STDs such gonorrhea or syphilis begin to rise, an increase in HIV cases is also likely to rise. In 2006, 57 people between ages 13 and 24 were diagnosed with HIV in the St Louis region.

Many teenagers and young adults think that they are immune from the infections that strike others. They may think, "I’m head cheerleader; That doesn’t happen to cheerleaders."

According to a 2005 survey, nearly half of high school teenagers in the state of Missouri have had sex, and one-third say they are sexually active. However, only two-thirds of those sexually-active teens said they had a condom during their last intercourse.

Young women, who make up the majority of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, often tell health care worker that they do not feel as if they have a choice about using protection against sexually transmitted disease. Teenagers often do not know how to broach the subject of a partner’s sexual history or how to negotiate condom use. There are some instances that they don’t know their partner well enough to even ask.

A majority of students in the St. Louis area leave high school having never had a comprehensive sex education class. For many, the only guidance is a week or two of instruction during a health class. Meanwhile, education at home doesn’t help much either. Parents often do not have the vocabulary to talk to their children about sex, and hiding behind innuendo and vague terms doesn’t help either. Even doctors feel that talking about sex, especially with their young patients, is a bad thing.

People are becoming clueless about how to protect themselves.

In solution to this, an STD program in Philadelphia suggests that intensive screening and education can reduce the number of STDs in high school students. This CDC-funded (Center for Disease Control) initiative started in 2002 where routine screenings for chlamydia and gonorrhea in all public high schools, public health clinics, and correctional facilities, were required. During the next three years, the prevalence of the chlamydia dropped a significant 24 percent among high school students.

The St. Louis County Health Department also instituted routine screening for STDs in the county jail and its public health clinic. The prevalence of the two diseases among men entering the county jail has fallen significantly since testing began in 2004. However, the improvement among women tested remained flat.

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