Teenagers and young adults account for nearly half the cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States, including HIV, though they make up just a quarter of the sexually active population, according to the first extensive national estimate of STDs among young Americans. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 9.1 million cases of eight sexually transmitted diseases occurred in people ages 15 to 24 in the year 2000. There were 18.9 million new cases overall, said the report in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Another article by CDC researchers that appears in the same journal, released Tuesday, estimates the lifetime medical cost of those 9.1 million cases at $6.5 billion. "The overall cost burden of STDs is so great that even small reductions in incidence could lead to considerable reductions in treatment costs," the article reported.
Three diseases--human papillomavirus, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia--accounted for 88% of new cases in people ages 15 to 24, the researchers said. Untreated HPV can cause cervical cancer or genital warts. The health effects of trichomoniasis, a parasite, are not well known. Chlamydia can lead to infertility. Other diseases included in the study were gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, hepatitis B, and HIV.
A separate report, also released Tuesday, said that only comprehensive sex education--teaching both abstinence and birth control--will reduce the spread of STDs. While calling abstinence "the surest way to avoid STDs," the report said that improved sex education, including instruction on proper condom use, is essential. "Most youth do not use condoms every time they have sex, and most have not been taught the correct way to use a condom," said the report by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina. The report was based on the work of a group of health experts and a separate youth panel. Despite such studies showing that comprehensive sex education is the best approach to reducing STDs and HIV infections among youths, the Bush administration is proposing to double the amount of federal money spent on abstinence-only programs for teens to $270 million in 2005.