Teenagers’ STDs a growing health problem in Miss.

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teenagers make up almost 40 percent of those diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases in Mississippi.

There has been a 25 percent jump in chlamydia within the last five years.

Figures from the state Department of Health show that number of HIV/AIDs cases among Mississippi’s 15- to 24-year-olds went from 131 in 2007 to 160 in 2008.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The number of syphilis cases among 15- to 19-year-olds also rose from 52 to 63.

“It’s not infrequent to get STDs weekly, and we’re there three days a week,” said Kanisha Meaders, a nurse practitioner at Jim Hill High School.

At school clinics in the city of Jackson and Hinds County, nurses perform wellness exams that include blood work on students. They do so with parents’ permission.

The increasing number of teenagers contracting STDs also is a national trend, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s just really important for people to know that youth are at risk and that youth continue to be disproportionately affected by STDs,” said Nikki Kay, a spokeswoman for the CDC in Atlanta.

Between 2004 and 2008, the percentage of 15- to 19-year-olds in Mississippi who made up cases of sexually transmitted diseases rose in all categories. So far this year, many of numbers continue to rise.

The primary and secondary syphilis numbers are at 22 for the first 10 months of this year, up from 19 cases in all of 2008. To-date numbers for chlamydia and gonorrhea are close to the total number of cases in 2008.

Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 account for 7.6 percent of Mississippi’s total population. But, in 2008, teens between the ages of 15 and 19 accounted for:

— 40.1 percent of Mississippi’s reported chlamydia cases.

— 32.3 percent of reported gonorrhea cases.

— 10.5 percent of reported total early syphilis cases.

— 7.8 percent of newly reported HIV/AIDS cases.

A lack of awareness of STDs, lack of condom use, stigma around STDs, multiple partners and socioeconomic factors contribute to the rising teen STD rates, Kay said. Some teenagers may not have access to the care they need, she said.

Children whose parents talk to them about sex are more likely to wait, said Felicia Brown-Williams, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Mississippi.

Parents don’t have to have a “big talk” with their children. Instead, she said, they can use any available opportunity to say a little on the subject.

“Opening up that conversation is going to make their child feel more comfortable about asking questions and to come to their parents because their parents have started that conversation with them,” she said.

The issue is bigger than just having sex or not, Brown-Williams said.

Sexually active teenagers are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies and usually don’t finish school.

“Then the cycle of poverty continues,” said Dr. Lynda Assad, director of pediatrics for the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center. “As the generations progress, you’re trying to elevate them to a higher standard of living. With babies having babies, it’s not going to happen.”