HOUSE CALL: Know the facts when discussing STDs with adolescents


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Adolescents in the U.S. engage in sexual activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47 percent of females ages 15 to 19 report having had sex. What's more, 15 percent of high schoolers have had sex with four or more partners before they graduate. In Missouri, statistics are similar.

Adolescents who have strong relationships with their mother are less likely to engage in sexual intercourse, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. To help foster early sex education discussions with your adolescents, here are some facts you can use.

Sexually transmitted diseases are transferred through oral sexual activity and intercourse. Females ages 15 to 24 outnumber males in acquiring STDs. More than 80 percent of American females will contract one of 100 types of human papilloma virus (HPV). And pregnancy rates in the U.S. are still among the highest in the world.

Teens are not immune to herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are different types of herpes viruses, each assigned a number. Some of the viruses cause sores around the mouth, others genital warts. HSV also can result in precancerous or cancerous cervical changes.

Transmission of HSV is possible without having actual sores or symptoms. One-fourth of those affected are unaware they carry it.

As with other STDs, condom use will decrease the rate of genital herpes, and in some cases, decreases the rate of oral herpes. Acyclovir and Valacyclovir are antiviral prescription medications used to treat symptoms or prevent outbreaks, if used daily. 

There are two HPV vaccines available for females ages 9 to 25. Each is administered in a series of three injections. Gardisil protects against HPV-16 and HPV-18, which cause genital warts, and Cervarix prevents types 6 and 11, which can cause cervical cancer. The goal is to build immunity in the girls prior to their first sexual contact or exposure to the virus.

One in 10 sexually active adolescent females is diagnosed with chlamydia. It's known as the 'silent" STD because it has few outward symptoms — vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, fever and loss of appetite. Untreated, chlamydia can impact a woman's ability to have children.

The rates of gonorrhea, a common STD, are highest among adolescent and young adults. It is caused by a bacterium that can grow and multiply in warm, moist areas such as the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes in females, and in the urethra in women and men.

Gonorrhea bacterium can lead to tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain for females. In males, it can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the testicles, which can lead to infertility and scarring in the urethra. I encourage parents to educate their teens early. Frequent cultures for infections by your gynecologist, pediatrician or family practitioner also can help to decrease STDs and teen pregnancy.

Dr. Denise Meckler is an OB/GYN on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.  Call 314-996-LIFE (5433) for a referral. 

Websites offer STD resources
Before speaking with your teenager about sex, you can visit these websites for more information. In search fields, enter "teenage pregnancy and STDs."

  • www.cdc.gov - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • www.acog.org - The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • www.nih.com - National Institutes of Health

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