March 11, 2008 -- CHICAGO (AP) - At least one in four teenage girls nationwide hasa sexually transmitted disease, or more than 3 million teens,according to the first study of its kind in this age group.
A virus that causes cervical cancer is by far the most commonsexually transmitted infection in teen girls aged 14 to 19, whilethe highest overall prevalence is among black girls - nearly halfthe blacks studied had at least one STD. That rate compared with 20percent among both whites and Mexican-American teens, the studyfrom the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
About half of the girls acknowledged ever having sex; amongthem, the rate was 40 percent. While some teens define sex as onlyintercourse, other types of intimate behavior including oral sexcan spread some infections.
For many, the numbers likely seem "overwhelming because you'retalking about nearly half of the sexually experienced teens at anyone time having evidence of an STD," said Dr. Margaret Blythe, anadolescent medicine specialist at Indiana University School ofMedicine and head of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committeeon adolescence.
But the study highlights what many doctors who treat teens seeevery day, Blythe said.
Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC's division of STDprevention, said the results are the first to examine the combinednational prevalence of common sexually transmitted diseases amongadolescent girls. He said the data, from 2003-04, likely reflectcurrent rates of infection.
"High STD rates among young women, particularlyAfrican-American young women, are clear signs that we must continuedeveloping ways to reach those most at risk," Douglas said.
The CDC's Dr. Kevin Fenton said given that STDs can causeinfertility and cervical cancer in women, "screening, vaccinationand other prevention strategies for sexually active women are amongour highest public health priorities."
The study by CDC researcher Dr. Sara Forhan is an analysis ofnationally representative data on 838 girls who participated in a2003-04 government health survey. Teens were tested for fourinfections: human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cervicalcancer and affected 18 percent of girls studied; chlamydia, whichaffected 4 percent; trichomoniasis, 2.5 percent; and herpes simplexvirus, 2 percent.
Blythe said the results are similar to previous studiesexamining rates of those diseases individually.
The results were prepared for release Tuesday at a CDCconference in Chicago on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
HPV can cause genital warts but often has no symptoms. A vaccinetargeting several HPV strains recently became available, butDouglas said it likely has not yet had much impact on HPVprevalence rates in teen girls.
Chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics.The CDC recommends annual chlamydia screening for all sexuallyactive women under age 25. It also recommends the three-dose HPVvaccine for girls aged 11-12 years, and catch-up shots for femalesaged 13 to 26.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has similar recommendations.
Douglas said screening tests are underused in part because manyteens don't think they're at risk, but also, some doctorsmistakenly think, '"Sexually transmitted diseases don't happen tothe kinds of patients I see."'
Blythe said some doctors also are reluctant to discuss STDs withteen patients or offer screening because of confidentialityconcerns, knowing parents would have to be told of the results.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports confidential teenscreening, she said.
On the Net:
American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www.aap.org