The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared April, Sexually Transmitted Disease, or STD, Awareness Month! Wahoo, right? Not a comfortable topic to talk about? Well, let’s get real folks. Every year in the USA, there are an estimated 19 million new infections of STDs. And, parents, it’s mainly our kids that are getting infected.
Yes, we wish our little darlings wouldn’t have sex before they tie- the-knot, but, alas, they do. Young adults and teenagers ages 15 to 24 represent nearly half of all STD cases, despite comprising only 25 percent of the sexually experienced population.
This high incidence of STDs has led the CDC to announce through its awareness campaign that all 13- to 64-year-olds be tested yearly for the most common STDs, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.
When we talk about STDs we’re talking about infectious diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, HIV, HPV, syphilis, hepatitis B and genital herpes that are spread by sex — whether vaginal, oral or anal. Many kids (and an adult President, I believe) mistakenly think that oral sex isn’t really sex, so no worries — not. It’s sex, and you can get an STD from an infected partner.
Chlamydia is the bacterium that causes the most common curable STD in the United States today. It can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, urethra or eye. The CDC estimates that there are 4 to 8 million new cases each year and the highest rates of infection are among 15- to 19-year-olds.
Symptoms include abnormal discharge (mucus or pus) from the vagina or penis or pain while urinating. Early symptoms may be very mild and usually appear one to three weeks after infection. However, often people with chlamydia or gonorrhea have few or no symptoms of infection and fail to get treated-hence, the recommended testing.
Chlamydia is easy to treat, but both partners must be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection. Problems can occur if left untreated. About 10 to 15 percent of women with chlamydia will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infection in the upper genital tract that can lead to infertility.
Of the nearly 16 million sexually active women ages 15 to 25 in the United States, only 38 percent reported being tested for chlamydia within the past year. This means that more than 9 million young sexually active women were not screened as CDC recommends.
So, what contributes to the high rates of STDs among teens and young adults? We, as parents, like to imagine our kids not having premarital sex or, if they are, they're practicing safe sex. Well, if this fantasy world really exists, why are so many teens and young adults becoming infected with a STD?
Wake up and talk to your kids about safe sex. Tell them that you can be infected from oral sex. Without anyone to tell them otherwise, many teens don’t consistently use a condom or they use it incorrectly. Condoms are an effective way to protect themselves from infection.
Additionally, teens may be too ashamed to tell their parents about any symptoms that may indicate an STD. As long as we perpetuate the myth that kids are not having premarital sex, the rates of STDs will increase and our children will suffer the consequences.
Most young patients feel the primary care setting is the most appropriate place to discuss sexual health and would like their providers to initiate the discussion. Primary care would include family practice and Internal medicine docs, and OBGYN practitioners for the ladies. But, what if she doesn’t initiate that discussion? As parents we have a responsibility to keep our kids safe.
So, which STDs should we be tested for and how often? To some extent STD screening depends on your individual risk factors, but the CDC recommends testing very year, and/or before starting a new sexual relationship, for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.
Please have that sex talk with your kids and be sure everyone follows the CDC’s recommendations. After all, it’s about our kids’ safety, isn’t it?