Teenage girls and their parents need to read the latest
government study of sexually transmitted diseases. The infections
are so prevalent they are hard to avoid once a girl becomes
sexually active. One in four girls ages 14 to 19 is infected with
at least one of four common diseases. Among African-American
girls in the study, almost half were infected.
The data, drawn from a sample of 838 girls who participated in a
broad national survey in 2003-4, was presented last week by
researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By far the most common of the four S.T.D.'s was the human
papillomavirus, or HPV, which infected 18 percent of the girls.
Chlamydia infected 4 percent, trichomoniasis - a common parasite
- 2.5 percent, and genital herpes 2 percent.
The study did not look at such feared diseases as H.I.V./AIDS,
syphilis or gonorrhea, but the four it did look at are worrisome
enough. Although most HPV infections cause no symptoms and clear
the body in less than a year, persistent HPV can cause cervical
cancer and genital warts. S.T.D.'s can cause infertility, pelvic
inflammatory disease and other painful symptoms.
It will not be easy for sexually active teenagers to avoid any
danger. Even among girls who said they had had only a single
sexual partner, 20 percent were infected. With more than three
million teenage girls infected, it is imperative to find ways to
The new findings strengthen the case for providing HPV vaccine to
young girls and for regular screening of sexually active girls to
detect infection. There is also a clear need to strengthen
programs in sex education. Exhortations to practice abstinence go
only so far.
Teenage girls who are sexually active need access to
contraceptives and counseling. They need to understand that the
numbers are against them and that a serious infection is but a
careless sexual encounter away.