Do you know what your kids are up to this summer?
Earlier this year the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a study reporting that 1 in 4 teenage girls, ages 14 to 19, has an Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). That is 3.2 million teenage girls in the United States, 26 percent percent have an STD. What’s even more surprising is 1 in 2 African American teenage girls has an STD. The study was conducted on 838 girls, but is viewed as a snapshot of the rest of the nation. The study also found that 15 percent of the teenagers had more than one STD.
Let’s break down the study even more. The most common STD that the girls had was human papillomavirus (HPV, 18 percent), followed by Chlamydia (4 percent). The study tested for four infections: HPV, Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. What’s so alarming, aside that so many teenagers are already sexually active, not using protection, and having an STD, is that the most common infection is HPV. HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, well as vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancers.
Cervical cancer is the second common cancer in women worldwide. African American women develop this cancer at a higher rate than white woman and are two times more likely to die from it. Latinas have the highest rates of new cervical cancer, the second highest death rate (behind African Americans), and are 1.5 times more likely to die from it than white women. The high death rate among Latinas is directly related to the low rate of pap smears. The same can be assumed for African Americans. Scary numbers, ladies.
The thing is, HPV many times has no symptoms. Women could go for years without being aware or treated for HPV, if they’re not going to the gynecologist and are not having routine pap tests. If HPV is the #1 transmitted sexually transmitted disease amongst teens, then they need to know the possible outcome of having unprotected sex. Statistics show that half of high school population has already had sexual intercourse. Kids know that having unprotected sex leads to pregnancy. They get that part (although the rate of teen pregnancy went up this year after many years on the decline). What they don’t get is HPV. They simply don’t know what it is, how it’s spread, and they could very well have it right now. They do know about those dreaded genital warts, but they don’t know that those warts come from certain strains of HPV. Nor do they know that there are over 40 different strains of HPV that are sexually transmitted. And if they don’t have any symptoms, like warts, because most HPV is often asymptomatic, they could be unwittingly passing on the infection to others. Nor do they know HPV can be transmitted merely from skin to skin contact, thus using a condom doesn’t protect 100 percent from the cancer causing infection.
Many HPV cases resolve themselves on their own. The human body is amazing in that way. Living a healthy lifestyle even increases those chances. On the other hand, some cases do require visits to the doctors for monitoring of the cervix and the virus for precancerous cells that can turn cancer. Chlamydia, the second most common STD amongst teenagers, is often asymptomatic too. It’s referred to as the silent epidemic. Without treatment it can lead to ectopic pregnancies, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
So back to your children - It’s not that African American girls are having more unsupervised sleepovers than their white and Latina classmates. Rather, within the community there already is a higher background rate in all sexually transmitted diseases; thus making them more susceptible to infection, even if they’ve only had one partner. This explanation is none too comforting. It’s also becomes abundantly clear that there is a disparity in the healthcare. Again, if you’re not being seen by a doctor, you very well may not know something is up, and you could be passing it on.
One more fun fact. If you already have an STD you also increase you risk of HIV infection! Studies suggest having an untreated STD opens up the possibilities of other STDs because the body’s immune system is not as strong.
Thankfully, there is a silver lining. The HPV vaccine. The vaccine prevents 4 different HPV strains that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is recommended to girls as young as 9 up to age 26. Nine might seem young, but girls should be vaccinated before they begin any sort of sexual activity they and can be exposed to any strain of HPV.
And let’s face it; you can’t be with the child 24 hours a day — hence my opening question. For some, it’s hard to keep tabs on what your kids are during especially in the summer when they’re out of school with nothing better to do. So why not start vaccinating your daughters now, before they get really curious. Every parent wants to protect their child, right? College is just a few months away too, so why not get your vaccinated before she goes off to college and really begins to experiment. I don’t mean to ruffle feathers, but realistically just because you’re not talking to your kids about sex doesn’t mean they’re not having it. They might not be, but HPV is not just spread through sexual intercourse, so you might as well cover as many bases for your kids.
The vaccine also provides a perfect opportunity to talk to your children about sex. It might also let them know that you want them to be responsible with their health. Once we start talking to our kids about sex, they’ll be more prepared to deal with the realities of it.
To find out more go to: http://www.cdc.gov/std/Hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine.htm.