Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Anthony Brooks.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

One in four teenage girls in infected with a sexually transmitted disease. That's according to a new Center for Disease Control study. And also according to that study, half of all African-American girls have an STD.

With us now is Dr. Kevin Fenton of the CDC. Welcome to the program.

Dr. KEVIN FENTON (CDC): Thank you very much.

BRAND: Twenty-five percent of all teenage girls - that seems really high.

Dr. FENTON: Well, you know, when you consider that every year in the United States there are more than 19 million new diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases which are made across the country, and nearly half of these are in young adults age under 25, it really is not that surprising.

BRAND: What are the diseases?

Dr. FENTON: Well, in this study specifically, we looked at four of the most common sexually transmitted diseases: human papillomavirus, or HPV; chlamydia, herpes simplex virus; and trichomoniasis. And these infectious diseases or these STDs were a cluster of diseases that we looked at to see how common it was for adolescent women to have at least one of them between the ages of 14 to 19.

BRAND: And HPV - now you can get a vaccine to protect you.

Dr. FENTON: That's right. And it's really one of the most effective vaccines that we have on the market for the prevention of any infectious disease but specifically it's quite effective in preventing both genital warts as well as cervical cancer.

BRAND: So one in four teenage girls is infected. Half of African-American girls have an STD.

Dr. FENTON: That's right. So in this study, nearly half, or one in two, of the African-American adolescents reports at having one of the four STDs which they were tested for.

BRAND: And how do you account for that?

Dr. FENTON: We know that the societal and social context which affects the lives of many minority communities in the United States really have a tremendous impact on driving these STDs. Some of these factors, for example, include poor access to health services or poor quality health services, especially in urban or in rural parts of the country. And this is a major driving factor for some of the disparities we see.

We also know that there are also societal factors. For example, poor housing, poverty, difficulties with socio-economic status, high rates of incarceration - these are all factors in the society which can facilitate risky behaviors or risky mixing patterns within the population that also results in high rates of disease in some population group.

BRAND: Any data on boys and their STDs?

Dr. FENTON: This study did not specifically address teenage boys or adolescent boys, but we have done other studies looking at STDs within young males and male adolescents. And in general what we find as a whole are - you tend to see lower rates of STDs or diagnoses among young boys, in part because of the different patterns of sexual mixing in the population.

Young boys are more likely to have relations - sexual relations with girls in the same age group, whereas adolescent girls tend to have slightly older male partners. And this difference in the patterns of sexual mixing often results in different transmission dynamics for the STDs.

BRAND: These numbers - 25 percent - they seem high. Is this higher than previous studies that you've done on this, or is it in keeping?

Dr. FENTON: It's in keeping. In previous studies which have been done, what we've actually looked at are individual sexually transmitted diseases and looked at the prevalence of these diseases in the population.

For this study we grouped these diseases as a cluster, so we're able to see the likelihood of acquiring any one of these four infectious diseases in the cluster. So this is the first time we are presenting the data in this format, but we have published other prevalent studies of the individual STDs in the past.

BRAND: And can you also take away from the study the fact that teenagers are not using condoms as much as they should?

Dr. FENTON: Absolutely. I think there are number of things that we can take away from this study; first of all, the need for better education and open and honest conversations with our young people about sex, relationships, healthy relationships and lifestyles, which can really protect for their future sexual lives and sexual careers.

BRAND: We've been talking about a new CDC study that says one in four teenage girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Dr. Kevin Fenton of the CDC, thanks for joining us.

Dr. FENTON: Thank you.

BROOKS: We adults maybe surprised to hear that so many teenage girls have sexually transmitted disease, but what do teenagers think about this. We asked a group from Youth Radio to sit down to talk about it.

Sixteen-year-old Asha Richardson begins the conversation.

Ms. ASHA RICHARDSON (Youth Radio): It's one of those things that's shocking but not extremely surprising because of, like, some girls I know specifically that make really, like, not wise decisions in my opinion - dating somebody that has multiple other partners, and then a lot of people, they're intimate with people without really getting to know them. And so they're just really uninformed.

Ms. SUSANA VUONG (Youth Radio): This is Susana Vuong and I'm 17. I mean, if you listen to the radio now, most of the hip hop songs are all about dudes have to have a lot of women to be cool, and girls, they're just supposedly passive. It's based on these images that I feel like girls act kind of stupid, like with unprotected sex. A lot of girls, they want to feel loved, and think, oh, well, he'll love me if I do this.

Mr. BRANDON ROBINSON (Youth Radio): Hi. I'm Brandon Robinson. I'm 17. People decide to have unprotected sex because a lot of people think that it won't happen to them. They look at a person, they say, oh, they don't look like they have nothing. Well, I have this friend, right. And, you know, he's a macho type person. He's out there. You know, he's trying to talk to every girl. He found this one girl who he wants to make his girlfriend. Well, people though she had HIV but he actually slept with her and we told him he should get tested. He got the test results back and he came to my house and he was like weeping, kind of like sad, crying, and he say he have full blown AIDS.

It definitely shaped mine up, my reality at a world, because when you hear about it, you don't actually care until something happens to one of your friends. And since that happened, a lot of my friends try to stay celibate because they're afraid of what might happen to them. Adults, gotta like, they gotta instill values in your child. My mom always told me, if I had anything to talk to her about, just come to her and talk to her. When I first talking to her about certain stuff, she really talked to me on a friend point of view. She had (unintelligible) to share knowledge to her. She didn't speak to me like an elder or my mother.

Ms. VUONG: I think girls care about being pregnant because they can see other girls around them that are around their age that actually goes through nine months and then actually having to take care of a child, losing sleep, losing their education, all that. People with STDs, they don't talk about it much, so a lot of people don't understand that that can also ruin your life.

I think that's the thing that people are most misinformed about. They don't see the pain so they can't imagine themselves getting it because they don't see the pain that people go through.

BROOKS: That's Susana Vuong and other teens from Youth Radio talking about a new study that shows one in four teenage girls are infected with sexually transmitted disease.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.