This article is published in partnership with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) as part of our joint series on STD Awareness.
As supporters of STD prevention, you are likely aware that April is designated as STD Awareness Month. Like us, I know that many of you worked diligently to increase awareness about the impact of sexually-transmitted diseases on the lives of Americans and shared messages on STD prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Division of STD Prevention set the stage for 2012 STD Awareness Month as a platform to encourage health care providers to talk to their young patients about STD testing and sexual health. This is a priority for us as one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States is adolescents and young adults.
In fact, we recently revised Division priorities, and health care providers are in a prime position to call attention to all of our new focus areas:
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- Protect the future health of adolescents and young people.
- Protect men who have sex with men.
- Sound the alarm on multi-drug resistant gonorrhea.
- Eliminate congenital syphilis.
Why is STD Awareness Month important?
Every year STDs cost the U.S. health care system $17 billion—and cost individuals even more in immediate and long-term health consequences.
Data show that sexually active teens and young adults are at increased risk for STDs when compared to older adults.
Estimates suggest that even though young people represent only 25% of the sexually experienced population, nearly half of all STD cases occur in young people aged 15 to 24.
But there is good news!
Most STDs are treatable, and many are curable – early detection through testing is key. Yet, stigma, inconsistent or incorrect condom use, access to health care, and a combination of other factors contribute to high rates of STDs among teens and young adults.
Primary care physicians, pediatricians, and other health care providers play an important role in ensuring young people receive correct information and comprehensive health care. Providers and the information they share are respected by patients. Research shows that adolescent patients feel primary care settings are an appropriate place to discuss sexual health and would like their providers to initiate such discussions.
What can providers do to help adolescents and young people avoid STDs?
- Build and maintain a culture of privacy and confidentiality for your adolescent patients.
- Take a sexual history. Discuss it during a patient’s first visit, during routine preventive exams, and when there are signs or symptoms of STDs. Discuss the five “Ps” with your patients: partners, practices, protection from STDs, past history of STDs, and pregnancy prevention.
- Encourage STD testing among sexually active young people. Of the nearly 16 million sexually active women aged 15 to 25 in the United States, only 38 percent report being tested within the past year for chlamydia. This means more than 9 million young sexually active women were not screened as CDC recommends. CDC recommends annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women aged 25 and younger.
- Adhere to screening recommendations. CDC recommends annual screening for chlamydia for all sexually active women aged 25 and under.
Providers can find additional resources through CDC.
Looking back at SAM 2012
This year’s activities included:
- CDC developed a webpage for physicians that provides resources on how to discuss STDs and testing with young patients.
- Dr. Bolan discussed the role healthcare providers play in educating young patients about sexual health and STD prevention in a radio podcast.
- CDC Director Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) conducted a Twitter Chat with his followers to increase dialogue between providers and their young patients about sexual health and STDs.
- Young people were encouraged to find a nearby STD testing center by visiting http://www.findSTDtest.org or texting their zip code to 498669.
- CDC.gov highlighted STD Awareness Month as a CDC feature.
- Staff in the Division of STD Prevention re-launched the STD Awareness Resource Site which includes materials, education tools, and information to support STD awareness and prevention activities.
- For the fourth consecutive year, CDC partnered with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America to promote the GYT: Get Yourself Tested campaign. GYT informs young people about STDs, promotes STD testing (“get yourself tested”), and encourages your people to talk to their partners, health care providers, and parents about STD prevention (“get yourself talking”). The campaign is housed at gytnow.org.
Get More Information:
CDC’s STD Web site
Taking an Adolescent’s Sexual History – Podcast featuring DSTDP Director Dr. Gail Bolan
Guide to Taking a Sexual History [PDF – 219KB]