At least one in four teenage girls has a sexually-transmitted disease, a new study by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says.
It is estimated that at least three million teens nationwide could be infected. The study was the first of its kinds in the age group of girls aged 14 to 19.
The most common sexually transmitted infection in teenage girls is a virus that causes cervical cancer.
The highest number of cases is among black girls - nearly half the blacks studied had at least one STD. That rate compared with 20 percent among both whites and Mexican-American teens, the study reported.
About half of the girls acknowledged having sex. Among them, the STD rate was 40 percent.
For many, the numbers likely seem "overwhelming because you're talking about nearly half of the sexually experienced teens at any one time having evidence of an STD," said Dr. Margaret Blythe, an adolescent medicine specialist at Indiana University School of Medicine. She is heads of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence.
But the study highlights what many doctors who treat teens see every day, Blythe said.
Current Rates of Infection?
Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC's division of STD prevention, said the results are the first to examine the combined national prevalence of common sexually transmitted diseases among adolescent girls. He said the data, from 2003-04, likely reflect current rates of infection.
"High STD rates among young women, particularly African-American young women, are clear signs that we must continue developing ways to reach those most at risk," Douglas said.
The CDC's Dr. Kevin Fenton said given that STDs can cause infertility and cervical cancer in women, "screening, vaccination and other prevention strategies for sexually active women are among our highest public health priorities."
"Many Teens Don't Think They're At Risk"
In the study by CDC researcher Dr. Sara Forhan, teens were tested for four infections: human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer and affected 18 percent of girls studied; chlamydia, which affected 4 percent; trichomoniasis, 2.5 percent; and herpes simplex virus, 2 percent.
The conclusions drawn from study are an analysis of nationally representative data on 838 girls who participated in a 2003-04 government health survey.
Blythe said the results are similar to previous studies examining rates of those diseases individually.
HPV can cause genital warts but often has no symptoms. A vaccine targeting several HPV strains recently became available, but Douglas said it likely has not yet had much impact on HPV prevalence rates in teen girls.
Chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics. The CDC recommends annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women under age 25. It also recommends the three-dose HPV vaccine for girls aged 11-12 years, and catch-up shots for females aged 13 to 26.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has similar recommendations.
Douglas said screening tests are underused in part because many teens don't think they're at risk, but also, some doctors mistakenly think, '"Sexually transmitted diseases don't happen to the kinds of patients I see."'
Blythe said some doctors also are reluctant to discuss STDs with teen patients or offer screening because of confidentiality concerns, knowing parents would have to be told of the results.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports confidential teen screening, she said.
The study's results were prepared for release Tuesday at a CDC conference in Chicago on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
Source: The Associated Press