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Young People Account for Half of New STDs

New Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among Youth Cost $6.5 Billion
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STDs Affect Youth Disproportionately continued...

Researchers say these findings may still underestimate the true impact of STDs on youth. They say any attempt to estimate the prevalence of STDs is severely hampered by the fact that many STDs do not cause symptoms and often go unreported because the infected individual doesn't seek medical care.

In addition, young, apparently healthy, persons may have limited contact with health care providers that might screen for STDs.

"Nevertheless, given the available information about the burden of STDs among sexually active young people, our estimate of 9.1 million new infections [48%] in 2000 among 15-24-year-olds demonstrates the tremendous toll these infections continue to have on youth in America," write CDC researcher Hillard Weinstock and colleagues.

New Approaches Urged to Combat STDs

The CDC reports did not offer explanations for why STDs affect youth disproportionately, but experts say the findings show that new approaches are needed to reduce the impact of STDs on youth.

"These numbers on the human and financial costs of STDs in youth should be a wake-up call for the nation," says Joan Cates of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in a news release. "We're not using the tools already available to fight these infections, and we're letting down our youth because of it."

"At the most basic level, we are not communicating well enough to make a difference," says Cates. "We need a comprehensive dialogue on the issue."

Sharon Camp of The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that conducts and sponsors research on sexual issues, says federally sponsored STD prevention programs need to look beyond abstinence.

"Although abstaining from sexual activity is guaranteed to prevent STDs, some adolescents -- and virtually all young adults -- will eventually choose to have sex," says Camp, in a news release. "Before they do, they need realistic sex education that teaches them how to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. It is essential to have medically accurate information about condoms and other contraceptive methods, and guidance in how to access appropriate prevention, testing, and treatment services."

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