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Screening in High Schools May Lower the Prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

WebMD Health News

Dec. 23, 1999 (Los Angeles) -- The best way to detect sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in adolescents is universal screening, according to a study in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Just as routine eye exams and other tests are offered in high school, perhaps we should be routinely testing for STDs," says lead researcher Thomas A. Farley, MD.

Common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis. It's estimated that 3 million teenagers are infected annually. Many of the diseases are treatable if they are diagnosed early, but if left untreated they can put the teens at risk for further health problems. In women, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a painful disorder and one of the major causes of infertility in the U.S. Gonorrhea can make it easier to contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Testing in this age group is particularly important because young people often have no symptoms, so they will not come for tests or treatment on their own, Farley tells WebMD. Also, many adolescents are embarrassed to admit they are sexually active. Routine testing without requiring students to confess to sexual activity can circumvent this shyness, he says.

For three consecutive school years, Farley, who is medical director of STD/HIV Programs in the Louisiana Office of Public Health, and his colleagues offered tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea to all students in grades 9-12 at three high schools serving approximately 2,000 students. For comparison, they looked at five schools with approximately 5,000 students in which screening was not offered until the third year, allowing the researchers to evaluate the effects of repeated screening. Parental consent was required for students to have the test.

During the three years of the study, more than half of the 9th- through 12th-graders in the three test schools participated. Of the total enrolled population available for at least two of the three years, 83% were tested at least once. In the five schools offering testing only in the final year, 52% of the eligible students were tested.

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