Local medical personnel and teachers said Wednesday they were not surprised that at least one in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted disease.

"It validates what we knew," Debra Marcus, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of South Central New York.

The organization covers Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties and is the official STD clinic in Delaware and Otsego counties.

The study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 3 million teens have STDs.

The study by CDC researcher Dr. Sara Forhan is an analysis of nationally representative data on 838 girls who participated in a 2003-04 government health survey. 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.

A virus that causes cervical cancer is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in teen girls aged 14 to 19, while the highest overall prevalence of STDs is among black girls.

"The recent information in the news about high rates of STDs in teens really helps to underscore the importance of the use of the Gardasil vaccine in trying to prevent infection by the HPV virus, which in turn will reduce transmission of the infection," said Dr. Siobhan Hayden, acting chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Bassett Healthcare.

"Younger women are more susceptible to infection due to their immature immune systems, cervical anatomy and greater chance of exposure to multiple partners," Hayden said.

Bassett's cervical cancer screening coordinator, Marianne Stalteri, said the latest statistics "are further proof of the need to make sure under-screened and underserved women of all ages throughout the region have access to, and receive, appropriate education, preventive screening and treatment as necessary."

The study found that about half of the girls acknowledged having sex; among them, the STD rate was 40 percent. While some teens define sex as only intercourse, other types of intimate behavior including oral sex can spread some infections.

Marcus said the study points out what Planned Parenthood has known all along _ that teens need to know how to protect themselves.

"We want teens to be safe," Marcus said. "There is a need for comprehensive, accurate information."

Marcus said parental communication and education in schools is vital.

"I hope these numbers would decrease with increased education," Marcus said. "It's very meaningful when studies like this come out because it highlights problems, but this study does not come as a surprise."

Teens should have full screenings and complete examinations to detect STDs because people are not always symptomatic, Marcus said.

Marcus said Planned Parenthood will be offering the HPV vaccine to all patients in the spring.

"It's the first vaccine that can actually prevent cancer," Marcus said.

Renee Stanley, Oneonta High School health teacher, said she was initially "shocked and disheartened" by the numbers in the study, but she was "not completely surprised." Stanley said her curriculum includes comprehensive sex education, but a vital component is the encouragement of parental involvement.

"STDs are a real threat," Stanley said. "Every half hour in the United States, a teenager contracts HIV.

"I really think the problem in our society is that the teens are getting mixed messages," she continued. "Look at the media. Sex is everywhere.

"The real key is parents talking to their children," Stanley said. "They should start talking to their children early."

HPV can cause genital warts but often has no symptoms.

Chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics. The CDC recommends annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women younger than age 25. It also recommends the three-dose HPV vaccine for girls age 11 and 12 and catch-up shots for females age 13 to 26.


Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.

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