Isle teens have big chlamydia risk
Hawaii ranks sixth in the country for chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease few teens know about, say Hawaii health officials.
It is the No 1 reportable disease in Hawaii affecting young people, said Peter Whiticar, chief of the state Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch.
Whiticar said Hawaii dropped from fifth to sixth place for the highest rate of chlamydia in the nation per 100,000 population not because of a decline in cases here, but because it is worse on the mainland.
"What this really tells us, and it's not something that's really news, is that young people are engaging in sex and, clearly, sex with some risk."
They are placing themselves at risk for chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, he said.
Planned Parenthood of Hawaii health educator Sonia Blackiston, who talks to students about sexual health, said, "So many have no idea about sexually transmitted diseases. They are always shocked."
Their response, she said, is, "How do you get it? That would never happen to me."
A recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found at least one in four teenage girls nationally -- more than 3 million -- has a sexually transmitted disease. Hawaii's rate for chlamydia in 2007 was about 443 cases per 100,000 people.
The report cited four infections: human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and herpes simplex virus.
Whiticar said chlamydia is the only one that is reportable, although "anecdotally, Hawaii, like most states, would have fairly high rates of the other diseases."
People think of chlamydia as a women's disease because testing usually is done on women, but men also are affected, he said. "Men are more symptomatic than women and get treated."
The disease can cause irreversible damage in women before they have any symptoms, and it can lead to infertility. Infected men can have discharge from their penis and a burning sensation when urinating.
Prevention starts with abstinence from sex, use of condoms for those sexually active and screening after unprotected sex, he said.
Testing for chlamydia is recommended for all sexually active women up to age 25 who might be at risk, Whiticar said.
Free, confidential screening for sexually transmitted diseases can be done at the Health Department's Diamond Head Health Center, 3627 Kilauea Ave., and at family planning and community health centers, he pointed out.
"The saddest thing is (for a woman) to become infected early in life and not screened and not detected, and later, when you want to have children, it is difficult or impossible."
Blackiston is one of two Planned Parenthood health educators going to schools and community organizations with a program, Making Proud Choices, to increase knowledge about sex and change behavior.
In Hawaii, she said, the state spends about $300,000 for comprehensive sex education, divided among 11 health educators through the Health Department's family planning program.
Because of an emphasis on math and reading scores, she said, health is "sometimes an option in schools," with drugs, tobacco and sexual health education crammed into half a semester.
She said sex education must be a community effort, starting with parents and teachers and including mass media campaigns. "Instead of Viagra plastered all over TV, we should talk about condoms."
Whiticar said his branch is working with community-based organizations, family planning and youth groups, health care providers and the Health and Education departments to try to increase awareness.