Columns / Discourse / April 3, 2008

Sexiled: One in four teenage girls has an STD?!

When I first heard this statistic, I thought for sure someone was making it up. I mean, I didn’t think high school girls were sleeping around *that* much more than the general population. (And what about the guys?)

But with a closer look, it doesn’t seem as if they are sleeping around anymore than the rest of us.

According to MSNBC, the study discovered STD’s in 26 percent of 828 girls ages 14 to 19.

However, 18 percent of those girls were infected with the HPV virus (you know, the virus that there’s a vaccine for, which a bunch social conservatives have been fighting against?)

The other 8.5 percent had either chlamydia (four percent), trichomoniasis (2.5 percent. It’s an STD which is treated with one dose of medication and generally causes discomfort during sex and a green or yellowish vaginal discharge in women and normally no symptoms in men), and/or herpes (2 percent).

So, over two-thirds of the girls in the study were infected with HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus. It’s a virus which often has no symptoms and which most people’s bodies will clear up on their own without any medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is also an incredibly common virus, with an estimated 50-75 percent of Americans becoming infected at least once in their lives. In one 2007 study, 44.8 percent of females 20-24 years old had HPV. Most people who get it don’t realize they have it, which often doesn’t pose much of a problem.

This isn’t to say it’s not dangerous though — if your body can’t clear it up and you don’t get medicated, some types of the virus can cause genital warts or even cervical cancer, which affects roughly 11,000 American women each year. The infamous pap smear is what discovers this disease, which kills around 3,700 American women each year and many more in countries which do not have adequate access to gynecologists. My grandma had cervical cancer (she wasn’t going to the gynecologist) and take it from her — it ain’t fun.

However, I also think the media was a bit overdramatic about it. (Who’d have thought?) I mean, this is a virus the Centers for Disease Control state is normally harmless, even without medication. It’s not as if one in four teenage girls has AIDS. There are far greater problems facing young women — rape, abuse, pregnancy, which should cause greater concern. My fear is that abstinence-only sex-ed teachers will take this information, blow it out of proportion, and run with it.

My hope is that this study will convince the population that yes, teenagers do have sex, and maybe it’d be a good idea to educate them about condoms and have mandatory HPV vaccinations for all young girls.

Because, although the virus is mostly harmless, wouldn’t it be a better world if it was completely harmless?

Information was obtained from the Knox County Health Department, the Knox College Health Center, http://www.cdc.gov/, www.msnbc.com, various HPV information sheets I got from Dr. Shaw, and Dr. Shaw’s talk last term on the HPV virus.

Questions or comments? Email me at creuter@knox.edu

Getting vaccinated

What: A vaccination that protects against 70 percent of HPV strands thatcause cervical cancer and 90 percent that cause genital warts.

How: Three shots, taken over a six month period.

Where: The Knox College Health Center, the Knox County Health Department, or your family doctor.

Cost: This one is the killer. Generally, the shot is $350 to $500 out of pocket. However, your insurance may cover part or even all of the cost. If you have Knox insurance, the total cost would be $465 at the Knox College Health Center. At your family doctor or the Knox College Center, the cost may be $0 if you have very good insurance or $500 if you have crappy/no insurance.

Also: For those unlucky ones like me who fall into the latter category, the Knox County Health Department is the best option. It only costs $21 if you’re 19 or under, and $375 if you’re over 19. But before you go broke over this, keep in mind that pap-smears generally can catch the HPV virus before it gets as far as cervical cancer. As long as you keep going to the gyno regularly, you should be fine, shot or no shot.

Christy Reuter


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