Student Well-Being

Young People Contract Half of All New STD Cases in U.S.

By Nirvi Shah — February 25, 2013 1 min read
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Although young people make up just 25 percent of the American population who are having sex, they account for half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases each year, new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

The CDC estimates that there are more than 19.7 million new STDs—or sexually transmitted infections, STIs, in public health parlance—in the United States each year.

A lot of these infections are relatively harmless, but some of them can cause major health problems and collectively, they cost billions to treat.

Young people ages 15 to 24 appear to be responsible for 70 percent of new cases of gonorrhea, 63 percent of new cases of chlamydia, and nearly half of new human papillomavirus, (HPV) infections.

HPV, of course, is the virus associated with some types of cervical cancer. The CDC recommends HPV immunizations for middle school-age kids, boys and girls, before they become sexually active, and for women through age 26 and men through 21. Of those nearly 20 million new cases of STDs each year, HPV makes up the lion’s share: 14 million new cases of this particular infection are estimated each year. Some people argue against giving preteens the vaccine, saying it will encourage them to have sex knowing they are protected from contracting HPV.

Get this: including new cases, American bodies are home to about 110 million STIs in all, or one for roughly every three residents of this country, although some people harbor multiple infections. These estimates include cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, HPV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.

While a lot of HPV infections clear up on their own within about two years, some lead to cervical and other cancers. And undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea can make it more likely that a woman will have chronic pelvic pain and/or an ectopic pregnancy, which means a fetus begins to develop outside the womb, where it cannot survive, and which puts the mother at risk of dying. These can also increase the chances that a woman will become unable to have children.

Is it a coincidence that last year, a CDC analysis found that schools have cut back on lessons in preventing the spread of STDs and how to avoid getting pregnant are on the decline?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.