In the heat of the moment, it’s a good bet sexually transmitted infections are the last thing on a teen’s or young adult’s mind.
Thus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, young people ages 15-24, who make up just more than one-quarter of the sexually active population, account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the U.S. each year.
While sexually transmitted infections affect people of all ages, they take a particularly heavy physical toll on young people, said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.
This is true especially for young women going through puberty, because biological factors make it easier for organisms to enter their reproductive systems.
Although most women will clear infection with medical treatment, some are left with debilitating pelvic pain and are at increased risk of developing ectopic pregnancies.
Among the eight common sexually transmitted infections, she said, the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is by far the most common among teens and young adults.
Though most HPV infections will clear on their own, some will take hold and can lead to serious disease, including cervical cancer.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes and trichomoniasis are also common among the young age group.
Undiagnosed infections cause 24,000 women to become infertile each year, according to the CDC.
“I think we’ve known for a long time that young people are at greater risk for sexually transmitted disease …” Bolan said. “The way we reduce infection is by identifying people as quickly as possible so that they can get treated.”
A lack of access to health care, confidentiality concerns, even being too embarrassed to tell anyone, all feed the spread of infections, she said.
Bolan said sexually active teens and young adults should be checked periodically for disease. If they suspect they’ve been infected, they should seek care from their pediatrician or primary care doctor. If they don’t know where to go, they can call their local health department.
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