The statistics are not good. Cases of sexually transmitted infections are surging, and young people are taking the brunt of this troubling trend.
In 2018, twenty percent of the U.S. population – approximately one in five people – had an STI, according to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest estimates. Nearly half of all new infections occurred in young people ages 15-24. While rates for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia have all risen, syphilis has seen a significant increase across the nation and in Colorado, particularly among men, and babies born with the infection.
“We have seen marked increases in all of these infections in our region,” said Joshua Welch, family practice physician at Northwest Colorado Health. “It’s very concerning because while they are treatable and curable, they are also preventable.”
In Colorado, sexually transmitted infections – notably gonorrhea and HIV – have increased significantly among youth ages 15 to 19, according to the 2018 State of Adolescent Sexual Health report.
The report points to a lack of sexual health awareness and education and limited access to STI prevention and management services as contributing factors.
While some teens candidly discuss issues such as birth control and STIs with their parents, others may not feel comfortable or do not have a trusted adult to turn to with questions. Some parents may feel uncomfortable or simply do not have the answers.
Publicly funded family planning programs help ensure teens and low-income women and men have a medical resource for information about sexual and reproductive health and access to birth control, affordable STI screenings and medications to treat STIs.
“It’s important to check in with a health care provider to make sure you have the information you need to be a responsible sexually active person,” Welch said.
A health care provider will help a patient understand their risk for STIs and how often they should be screened. Some STIs do not have symptoms. Without regular screenings, individuals may transmit infections to their partners and expose themselves to long term health problems including pelvic or abdominal pain, pregnancy complications, inability to get pregnant and increased risk of getting HIV.
Health care providers also will clear up misinformation and fill in information gaps. For example, some sexually active teens may not realize that condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against both unintended pregnancy and STIs. They also may not be aware that there is a medication – PrEP – that helps prevent HIV, or a vaccine to prevent HPV, the infection that causes cervical cancer.
Family planning services are confidential. Ideally, parents play a role in their teen’s sexual health education; however, teens have the option of making an appointment and consenting to their own care. Telehealth visits are available for items that do not require in-person care, such as birth control consults and refills.
For information about Northwest Colorado Health’s family planning services, visit northwestcoloradohealth.org.