Half of Young Americans to Get Sex Diseases

February 24, 2004

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Half of all young Americans will get a sexually
transmitted disease by the age of 25, perhaps because they are ignorant
about protection or embarrassed to ask for it, according to several reports
issued on Tuesday.


The reports, publicized by two nonprofit sexual and youth health groups,
said there were 9 million new cases of STD among teens and young adults aged
15 to 24 in 2000.

They said the U.S. government's policy of preferring abstinence-only
education would only increase those rates.

"For the 27 million young Americans under the age of 25 who have had sex,
the stakes are simply too high to talk only about abstinence," James
Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said in a statement.

"Given the prevalence of STDs, young people need all the facts -- including
medically accurate information on condoms."

The reports, released jointly by Advocates for Youth -- a nonprofit group
advocating for sex education, and the sexual health-oriented Alan Guttmacher
Institute, pull together information from several different publications.

They include a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites)
report in the latest issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and
Reproductive Health, and a University of North Carolina report based on
interviews with teens and young adults.

"Approximately 18.9 million new cases of STD occurred in 2000, of which 9.1
million (48 percent) were among persons aged 15 to 24," the CDC report

It said three diseases -- human papillomavirus or genital wart virus, a
parasitic infection called trichomoniasis and chlamydia -- accounted for 88
percent of all new cases of STDs in 15- to 24-year-olds. Wart virus is the
major cause of cervical cancer while chlamydia can cause infertility.


The CDC report did not comment on potential causes, but the Guttmacher
Institute did.

"It is not surprising that teens and young adults contract a
disproportionate number of infections," said Guttmacher's Sharon Camp. "Most
young people are sexually active, and many are ill equipped to prevent STDs
or seek testing and treatment."

She said sex education that includes information on condoms is vital to
preventing STDs.

"Although abstaining from sexual activity is guaranteed to prevent STDs,
some adolescents and virtually all young adults will eventually choose to
have sex," Camp said.

"Before they do, they need realistic sex education that teaches them how to
prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. It is essential to have medically
accurate information about condoms and other contraceptive methods, and
guidance on how to access appropriate prevention, testing and treatment

Teens 15 and older who have had sex have the highest STD rates of any age
group in the country, and the United States has the highest STD rate of any
industrialized country, according to CDC and World Health Organization (news
- web sites) figures.

The University of North Carolina report attacked federal policies that
encourage abstinence-only education.


"Abstinence is, of course, the only 100 percent effective prevention
strategy," Shawn Carney, a 17-year-old member of the UNC youth panel, said
in a statement.

"But with 70 percent of young people having sex by the age of 18, we need to
hear about more than abstinence. We need to know how to prevent STDs when we
do have sex later in life."





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