How common are STD infections?

You may be saying to yourself, "You know what? I really don't think STDs are a problem with the types of kids my daughter hangs out with." Maybe you're right. But keep this statistic in mind—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in

March of 2008 that shows that more than one in four adolescent females in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection (STI). That's right. Twenty-six percent of American girls between the ages of 14 and 19 have the human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), and/or trichomoniasis. Even among the girls reporting only one lifetime sexual partner, 20% had at least one STD.

The question you probably have in your mind right now is, "Why is the rate of infection so high for adolescent girls?" Well, there are a number of reasons for it. First, the adolescent cervix[1] is particularly vulnerable to infections such as HPV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea because it is still developing. Second, the number of antibodies that fight infection isn't as high in male and female adolescents as it is in older adults. And third, adolescents may be more prone to engage in high-risk sexual behavior.

This high-risk behavior may be caused by several factors. For instance, those "raging hormones" we hear so much about really do exist. (Remember?) Unfortunately, the power they exert can sometimes override a girl's common sense about protecting herself. Further, adolescents often have a certain sense of invincibility. They believe that bad things are remote in possibility and happen to someone else rather than to themselves. Or, a girl might be engaging in risky behavior because of peer pressure or manipulation and control by her partner. And finally, don't overlook the effects of drugs and alcohol on the types of sexual behavior that an adolescent girl will engage in. (Did you know that 28% of all adolescents report that they used alcohol before they turned 13?)

The adolescent cervix is particularly vulnerable to infections such as HPV, Chlamydia, and gonorrhea because it is still developing.

There are almost too many different types of STDs to mention in this book. However, it is worthwhile to cover the signs, symptoms, and treatments of the most common infections.

Human papillomavirus is one of the most common and potentially harmful sexually transmitted diseases. Although researchers have now developed vaccines that can greatly reduce the threat of this virus to young women, there has been some controversy about this important issue. As a result, I've decided to cover this topic in depth in a separate chapter. By analyzing the information contained there, you can make an educated and informed decision about whether your daughter should receive the HPV vaccine.

Unlike a number of other STDs, a relatively low percentage of women (only about one-third) who have chlamydia experience symptoms.

What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is one of the four most common sexually transmitted diseases. It is caused by bacteria, and in 2006, more than one million cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States.

As many as 25% of all males who have chlamydia have no symptoms. Those who do have symptoms experience a burning sensation while urinating, discharge from the penis or rectum, testicular pain, and rectal pain.

Interestingly, unlike a number of other STDs, a relatively low percentage of women (only about one-third) who have chlamydia experience symptoms. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend yearly screening of all sexually active adolescent and young adult females up to 25 years of age (and older if they have new partners). Those women who do have symptoms from chlamydia experience burning while urinating, vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, and rectal pain.

If a woman's chlamydia infection remains untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infection of the fallopian tubes[2], and ultimately, infertility[3]. Scarring of the fallopian tubes from a chlamydia infection also increases the risk of a tubal pregnancy, which can be hazardous to the health of the mother. Further, a chlamydia infection can cause a woman to deliver prematurely, and it can be passed on to a newborn in the form of an eye infection or pneumonia.

If a woman contracts chlamydia, the treatment is quite simple. It merely consists of taking one of several common antibiotics. Both partners must be treated before they can resume intercourse.

There is no immunity gained from a chlamydia infection. That means that a woman can get repeated infections with repeated exposure. Chlamydia is found in cervical secretions and semen, so condoms provide significant protection to both partners.

  • [1] The organ at the lower end of the uterus that separates the uterus from the vagina. The cervix plays an important role in holding a developing fetus inside the uterus until labor begins. In addition, the cervix is the site from which samples are obtained for Pap smear testing, and it can be the site of abnormal growths such as cancer.
  • [2] Two long, tubular structures that are attached to the top sides of the uterus. Fertilization of the egg takes place in the fallopian tubes. Each fallopian tube lies in close proximity to each ovary.
  • [3] The inability to get pregnant without assistance.
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