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The U.S. Is far From Free of Sexually Transmitted Disease

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"The good news is we do know what works if we have the resources and commitment to implement those programs," Valdiserri says. Additional good news is that rates of babies being born with syphilis have gone down by about half nationally.

One city that may need to take some pointers from Baltimore is Indianapolis. The home of one of the most famous car races in the world is also home to an incredibly high rate of syphilis, according to the new report. Syphilis cases in Indy jumped by nearly 475% between 1997 and 1999. However, health officials there provided WebMD with materials stating that syphilis cases are now half of what they were at the same time last year. Indianapolis attributes this success to galvanizing community groups, clergy, health centers, jails, and minority organizations to educate people about the signs and symptoms of syphilis and convince people to be tested.

In addition to syphilis and gonorrhea, another disease that is worrisome to experts is chlamydia. Among women, untreated chlamydia infections can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, a common cause of fertility problems. Chlamydia, which is easily treated and cured, is increasing at a rate of about three million new cases each year. The states with the highest rate of chlamydia infections in young women are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Experts at the conference say young people account for a large percentage of the 15 million sexually transmitted diseases that occur each year. They say teens must be made aware of the dangers of getting such diseases and giving them to others. That also includes human papilloma virus -- or HPV -- and venereal warts.

Research indicates that one in five teenagers have had four or more sexual partners, says Judith Wasserheit, MD, MPH, another CDC official. And by grade 12, about 65% of high-school students are sexually active. Moreover, "the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among women occur among adolescents," she says.

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