STDs in California adolescents spread at 10 times the reported rate
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California youth aged 15 to 24 are spreading sexually transmitted diseases at 10 times the reported rate, according to a study published last month in the California Journal of Health Promotion.

The study, conducted by the Public Health Institute in Oakland, estimated that California had 1.1 million new cases of STDs among young people in 2005—the latest year for which such data was available. The Bay Area accounted for over 152,000 of these new cases with 13.8 percent, and San Francisco alone had over 30,000.

“The estimated number of new cases and their associated costs illustrate that the STD epidemic among California youth remains largely hidden,” said Petra Jerman, the study’s leading researcher, in a press release. “This epidemic is like an iceberg. What you see is a small part of what you have.”

In the report, Jerman and two other researchers, Norman Constantine and Carmen Nevarez, analyzed eight major STDs: chlamydia, syphilis, genital herpes, HIV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Using an estimation method devised by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists in a 2004 study on STDs in youth, Jerman’s team extrapolated data for these STDs in the teen to mid-twenties age group.

Although the published version of the report did not break down the STDs by county, it revealed that statewide in 2005, there were 590,000 new cases of HPV, more than all the other major STDs combined. Trichomoniasis and chlamydia followed with 250,000 and 180,000, respectively.

Of the eight major STDs in the study, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis are curable with antibiotics. HIV, hepatitis B, genital herpes, and HPV can be treated and suppressed, but can still be transmitted and are never fully curable.

The report attributed the discrepancy between reported numbers and estimated actual numbers to inadequate availability of screening in certain populations (some infections are asymptomatic and therefore people do not get screened), underreporting by medical workers, and treatment of infections without confirmed testing. Also, medical and laboratory providers are not required to report most common cases of trichomoniasis, HPV, and genital herpes.

At SF State’s Student Health Services (SHS), which regularly conducts STD tests, staff members only report the cases that they are required by law to report, said Albert Angelo, health educator for the center.

Another issue is that while the tests are widely available not everyone is taking advantage of them, he said.

“If there’s a test out there for an STD, we can test for it,” Angelo said. “Anyone who thinks they are at risk for STDs should get tested.”

Statistics for the number of reported cases at the SHS were not readily available.

Blake Love, 23, a creative writing major, said that he thinks young people may be more concerned with avoiding pregnancy than preventing STDs.
“Some girls who are on birth control, only think ‘I won’t get pregnant.’ And among the gay community, [some people I know] use protection only half the time,” he said.

“I know a lot of people who have had testing,” said Kathy Kayhour, 31.

“Every time you date someone new, you should get checked out. The reality is that most people in long term relationships don’t use condoms and there’s a high rate of infidelity, and that’s how people contract STDs,” said Kayhour, a communications major.

“What does that statistic tell me? There’s a great deal of promiscuity and unprotected sex. People are enjoying themselves irresponsibly,” said Fakhra Shah, 26, a grad student in modern world history.

“People like to have fun, and it doesn’t come without a price,” she said.

To view the full study, visit http://www.csuchico.edu/cjhp/5/3/080-091-jerman.pdf.

Staff writer Christina Nguyen contributed to this article.

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