1. Health
Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

New CDC Study: 1 in 4 Teenage Girls Have a Sexually Transmitted Disease

By March 12, 2008

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At an STD prevention conference in Chicago on Tuesday, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of the "first-of-its-kind" federal study that examined the combined national prevalence of common sexually transmitted diseases among adolescent girls.

The results? At least one in four teenage American girls, which equates to more than 3 million teens, has a sexually transmitted disease. This information has startled U.S. health officials, who are now calling for better screening, vaccination and prevention. The general consensus appears to be placing the blame of these alarming results on abstinence-only sex education, and the teenagers’ own sense of invulnerability.

Although only about half of the girls in the study admitted to having sex, among those females who did acknowledge engaging in sexual behaviors, the rate was even more troubling - as 40% of these girls were found to have an STD. The teens were tested for common STDs: human papillomavirus (HPV) affected 18% of girls studied; chlamydia was found in 4% of the teens; trichomoniasis, 2.5%; and genital herpes, 2%. Additionally, disease rates were notably higher among black girls (nearly half had at least one STD) versus 20% among both whites and Mexican-Americans.

Dr. Sara Forhan, the CDC researcher conducting the study analyzed a nationally representative data on girls ages 14 to 19 who participated in a 2003-04 government health survey. Although that data may be a few years old, Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC's division of STD prevention, explains that they likely reflect current prevalence rates.

According to Dr. Douglas, STD screening tests are underused due to many teens not thinking that they're at risk while some doctors mistakenly believe that STDs don't happen to the kinds of patients they see. Dr. Margaret Blythe, head of an American Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescence, explains that some doctors are hesitant to discuss STDs with teen patients or offer screening due to confidentiality concerns (the teen’s parents would have to be told the results). Nonetheless, Blythe points out that the Academy of Pediatrics supports confidential teen screening.

This study comes at the heels of the late 2007 discovery that the teen birth rate rose for the time in 15 years. It makes one wonder…what’s going on? Teenagers are being put in the position of having to make responsible decisions that adults may not be properly preparing them for. Teens must be educated to understand that STDs can only be prevented through abstinence and condom use. With so many sex myths floating around, many sexually-active teens are not receiving factual information on how to protect themselves.

And teens need to be properly informed as STDs can be serious. HPV can cause cervical cancer, and the virus can also cause genital warts (which can’t be cured). Chlamydia (often without symptoms) can lead to infertility. Trichomoniasis can cause abnormal discharge and painful urination, and genital herpes causes painful blisters and is not curable.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, best sums this up in her the following quoted about this study -- it shows that "the national policy of promoting abstinence-only programs is a $1.5 billion failure, and teenage girls are paying the real price."

Photo Courtesy of Stockbyte / Getty Images

March 12, 2008 at 5:00 pm
(1) LisaA says:

I sincerely hope that parents learn from what Cecile Richards said because it is SO true. Sad, but true. I hadn’t realized the data was from a few years ago. Another article I read earlier said the sample size was only 883 teens(which I think is a small sample). It seems like the CDC is coming out with this study now to help promote the Gardasil vaccine. The manufacturer (Merck) is calling this the “cervical cancer vaccine”. The CDC has already added it to the overloaded vaccine schedule, recommending that all 11/12 year old girls get it. And it has to be given every five years. If it’s a vaccine against HPV, why don’t they recommend the shots for boys as well???? WHY won’t anyone promote real, honest, safe sex education!?!? Condoms and abstinence are both effective and inexpensive. If parents bury their heads in the sand and hope for the best, STD rates and pregnancy rates will not improve.

March 12, 2008 at 5:48 pm
(2) Bruce Meyer says:

Gosh. One in four! I know!! Let’s have sex education in the schools. Then hardly anyone will have these problems.

While we’re at it, we can solve the literacy problem by introducing compulsory public education.

Satire aside, what we have is the direct result of what we’ve been doing. Contra LisaA, there are strong and persistent advocates for “real, honest, safe sex education.” Well entrenched in the system at that, and well funded at that. We *have* achieved what we have been teaching toward–whether we like it or not. Addicts in recovery know that it’s crazy to keep doing the same thing and expect different results; and the cause-effect dynamic applies here, I say.

March 12, 2008 at 5:50 pm
(3) Dawn Stacey (Contraception Guide) says:


You bring up some great points. Just to clarify, though the sample size was 838 – researchers at the CDC believe that these results are representative of today’s teenage population as a whole (Researchers have fancy statistical models that can fairly accurately make these types of predications based on various sample sizes). Also, parents and teens should be aware that genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD and is spread through genital contact. People affected by HPV often do not have any symptoms (so many do not realize they have it). There are roughly 40 types of genital HPV – some strains can cause cervical cancer in females while some can cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis (in both males and females). Other strains may cause genital warts in both genders.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, helps to prevent the four types of HPV that cause up to 70% of all cervical cancers and about 90% of genital warts. It is recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age (hopefully, before they become sexually active) and is given in a series of 3 injections over a 6 month period. The second and third doses are given 2 and 6 months (respectively) after the first dose. It is not yet known if females will need a booster dose of vaccine as research is currently being done to find out how long protection will last (so far, studies have found that vaccinated persons are protected for 5 years). Though condoms may lower the risk of HPV, it is important to realize that HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom (so condoms cannot provide total protection). Gardasil is a proven way to decrease a female’s chances of contracting HPV, thus preventing cervical cancer. This is important because cervical cancer does not present any symptoms until it is usually in an advanced stage.

You wondered, “Why don’t they recommend the shots for boys as well?” There are actually studies being conducted to find out if the vaccine is also safe in males, and if it can protect them against HPV and related conditions. Thus, there is no vaccine currently licensed to prevent HPV-related infections in males. The FDA is open to approving a vaccine for males once there is proof that it is safe and effective for them. To complicate matters, there is no approved screening method to detect early signs of penile or anal cancer (as females have the Pap test). Hope that answers your question!


Dawn Stacey

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