Conference Coverage

Rate of STIs is rising, and many U.S. teens are sexually active



– Consider point-of-care testing and treat potentially infected partners when diagnosing and treating adolescents for STIs, Diane M. Straub, MD, MPH, said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Diane M. Straub, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla

Dr. Diane M. Straub

In addition, adolescents are sometimes reluctant to disclose their full sexual history to their health care provider, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment, noted Dr. Straub, professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida, Tampa. “That sometimes takes a few questions,” but can be achieved by asking the same questions in different ways and emphasizing the clinical importance of testing.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, 40% of adolescents reported ever having sexual intercourse, with 20% of 9th-grade, 36% of 10th-grade, 47% of 11th-grade, and 57% of 12th-grade students reporting they had sexual intercourse. By gender, 41% of adolescent males and 38% of adolescent females reported ever having sexual intercourse; by race, 39% of white, 41% of Hispanic, and 46% of black participants reported any sexual activity. Overall, 10% of adolescents said they had four or more partners, 3% said they had intercourse before age 13 years, 54% used a condom the last time they had intercourse, and 7% said they were raped.

This photomicrograph reveals the histopathology in an acute case of gonococcal urethritis using Gram-stain technique. CDC


The rate of STIs in the United States is rising. There has been a sharp increase in the number of combined diagnoses of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, with an increase from 1.8 million in 2013 to 2.3 million cases in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that same time period, gonorrhea increased 67% from 333,004 to 555,608 cases, syphilis (primary and secondary) rose 76% from 17,375 to 30,644 cases, and chlamydia increased 22% to 1.7 million cases.

According to a 2013 CDC infographic shown by Dr. Straub, young people in the United States aged 15-24 years old represent 27% of the total sexually active population but account for 50% of new STI cases each year. Persons in this population account for 70% of gonorrhea cases, 63% of chlamydia cases, 49% of human papillomavirus (HPV) cases, 45% of genital herpes cases, and 20% of syphilis cases.



All sexually active females aged 25 years or younger should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as “at-risk” young men who have sex with men (YMSM), Dr. Straub said. All adolescent males and females aged over 13 years should be offered HIV screening, and HIV screening should be discussed “at least once.” And depending on how at risk each subpopulation is, health care providers should be have that conversation and offer screening multiple times.

Women who have sex with women (WSW) are a diverse population and should be treated based on their individual sexual identities, behaviors, and practices. “Most self-identified WSWs report having sex with men, so therefore adolescent WSWs and females with both male and female sex partners might be at increased risk for STIs, such as syphillis, chlamydia, and HPV as well as HIV, so you may want to adjust your screening accordingly,” she said.

Pregnant women, if at risk, should be screened for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

CDC/Dr. E. Arum; Dr. N. Jacobs


YMSM should have annual screenings for syphilis and HIV, screenings for chlamydia and gonorrhea by infection site; also consider herpes simplex virus serology and anal cytology in these patients, Dr. Straub said. They also should be screened for hepatitis B surface antigen, vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and, if using drugs, screened* for hepatitis C virus.

Dr. Straub recommended licensed health care professionals who may treat minor patients review their state’s laws on minors and their legal ability to consent to treatment of STIs without the involvement of their parent or guardian, including disclosure of positive results and in the case of HIV care.

In places where index insured are allowed to find out about any services a beneficiary receives on their insurance, “this is a little problematic, because in some states, this is in direct conflict with the explanation of benefits requirement,” she said. “There are certain ways to get around that, but it’s really important for you to know what the statutes are where you’re practicing and where the breaches of confidentiality [are].”

Expedited partner therapy, or treating one or multiple partners of patients with an STI, is recommended for certain patients and infections, such as male partners of female patients with chlamydia and gonorrhea. While this is recommended less for YMSM because of a higher rate of concurrent infection, “if you have a young person who has partners who are unlikely to have access to care and get treated, it’s recommended you give that treatment to your index patient and to then treat their partners,” Dr. Straub said.

A recent and frequently updated resource on STI treatment can be found at the CDC website.

Dr. Straub reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

*This article was updated 1/11/19.

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