Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

United States #1: In Chlamydia Cases

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Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a report on three sexually transmitted diseases caused by different bacteria - chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, which are reportable - and therefore countable. The last report was not good news! More than one million cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States last year - the highest number ever reported! The rates of gonorrhea also are getting higher, especially one "superbug" version resistant to common antibiotics. Congenital syphilis, which can deform or kill babies, is also rising for the first time in years.

Last year's number of chlamydia cases beat the 1978 record number of gonorrhea cases, which might not be a bad thing if it means more people are being tested, and therefore treated. Since 1993 the CDC has recommended annual screening for all sexually active women ages 15 to 25, which is the group most likely to be infected. If, on the other hand, it just reflects more unprotected sex, the news cannot be good.

The test for the bacteria that causes chlamydia can easily be done with urine or a swab, on both males and females. More than three quarters of women with chlamydia have no symptoms, making the screening extremely important. Left untreated in women, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as well as infertility later in life. Sadly, the CDC believes that chlamydia is actually underreported and the actual number of cases may be closer to 2.8 million annually.

The CDC also recommends that doctors send information and medication for the sexual partner home with the person diagnosed as sexual partners can be hesitant to seek treatment if they do not experience any symptoms. A "test for cure" three months after the first diagnosis is also suggested, to make sure the treatment was successful.

The story with gonorrhea is a little bit different. In 2004 the rates of gonorrhea infection were at the lowest level they had been since 1941, when the government started tracking the number of infections. However, in 2005 the rates went up and in 2006 there was another 5.5% increase. There are also research reports that suggest between 7% and 14% of the cases are the infections resistant to common antibiotics.

There are actually about 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States and genital herpes, HPV and trichomonas infections are the most common, but not reportable. For teens, this means that safer sex is a necessity - every act of vaginal intercourse should be protected with a reliable method of birth control, as well as a condom to protect against disease. Oral sex should include the use of a condom to avoid the exchange of semen. This is not rocket science - all three of these diseases can be 100% avoided by not exchanging body fluids during sexual contact - which is easily accomplished with proper use of a male or female condom.

Photo credit: bribriTO

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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