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More Teens Testing Positive for STD

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I was thumbing through one of my many journals and came upon a recent study which had some surprising data regarding teens, sex and STDs.  This study was from Emory University released in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at the rates of 3 sexually transmitted infections which can be detected in urine, and found that more than 10% of teens who had said they were abstinent tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease.

This is the second study, the first being released in 2005, which also showed that there were not significant differences in STD rates between teens who had pledged to be virgins until marriage and those who had not. In other words either teens are not being truthful about their sexual history (are you shocked?) or they had “forgotten” that they had had intercourse in the last 12 months.

In either case the results of this latest study might indicate the need to perform routine urine STD screening tests on all teens, rather than only those teens who admit to having sexual activity.

In the latest study, 14,000 youth agreed to provide a urine specimen to check for 3 common STDs:  Chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomniasis.  More than 11,000 of the teens in the study said that they had had sexual intercourse in the last 12 months, while 3,000 teens reported no sexual intercourse during that time. Of these urine samples, there were 964 that tested positive for a STD, 118 of these were from teens who denied having intercourse in the last 12 months, and 60 of those said they had never had sexual intercourse in their lives.  Really??

This was quite an interesting study to me as I routinely ask my teenage patients about sexual activity, and while I think many of my patients are honest with me (as I tell them it is important to be honest so that I may treat them appropriately). I am also not naïve enough to think that they are all completely open and truthful.

In this study 10% of those found to have an STD claimed to have been abstinent for 12 months and 6% claimed that they had never had penile/vaginal contact. Maybe there is a question of semantics?   It may be that we need to have even more specific questioning surrounding the “definition of abstinent”.  I often have teens ask me about a specific incident that they were involved in and they say “Does that count as sexual activity?”  This study speaks to that issue, differ people have different definitions of abstinence.

The most important message from this study is that we doctors may need to be testing all teens for STDs on routine urine specimens.  The sexually transmitted diseases in this study need to be treated with appropriate antibiotics, not only in the patient but also their partners.

As both a doctor and a parent, I know that the reality is that teens, for many different reasons, are not always truthful.  A simple urine specimen may be the best way to make sure that we don’t miss potentially serious infections.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Your thoughts? Let me know! I would love to hear from you.

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One Response to “More Teens Testing Positive for STD”

  1. Teens think that if they don’t have sexual intercourse that it isn’t “sex.” As a result they are engaging in oral and anal sex to preserve their virginity. This may be part of the reason why those teens who say they aren’t engaging in sexual intercourse come out positive for STI’s. Granted, I think that that not being completely honest plays a part as well.

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