Educating youths about
STDs is urged

The rates of such diseases are on the
rise in Hawaii, say health officials

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rates are increasing in Hawaii, and health officials are concerned particularly about reaching youth and at-risk groups with education, screening and treatment.

The House and Senate Health committees were briefed yesterday on these sexually transmitted diseases:

>> Hawaii is one of the top 10 states in incidences of chlamydia, an infectious type of bacteria destructive to the fallopian tubes. It is often untreated because it has no symptoms, but it can cause infertility, tubal pregnancy and severe pelvic infection.

>> Hawaii has one of the lowest gonorrhea rates in the county, but it increased 68 percent last year from 2002, and drug-resistant strains have emerged.

>> Syphilis cases have declined here since the 1980s, but the trend has curved upward.

Dr. Al Katz, of the University of Hawaii Department of Public Health Sciences & Epidemiology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, said Hawaii was one of the first states to screen for chlamydia, and aggressive screening could account for some of the increase.

But trends "have been going in the wrong direction" since 1997, he said, citing double-digit annual percentage increases from 1998 through 2002.

In 2001, 7 percent of 10- to 14-year-old girls tested positive -- the highest percentage of all ages -- in the Hawaii Chlamydia Screening Program, he said.

"That's scary. It really opened my eyes," he said.

He said pediatricians and family practitioners should take more responsibility to get sexual histories of young patients and get them screened if they are at risk.

Many doctors do not see this as their role, or they are not comfortable talking about such things because of a lack of training, said Peter Whiticar, chief of the state Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch.

He noted that training is increasing in this area and being incorporated in the curriculum of the schools of Medicine, Nursing and Social Work.

Whiticar recommended developing better access to Web-based information on sexual diseases to reach more young people and increased access to insurance coverage for STD services.

Julienne Nakano, Department of Education HIV resource teacher, said the department is building a statewide comprehensive system to educate teachers and students about sexually transmitted diseases. She described current workshops and programs to train teachers in an abstinence-based curriculum.

Lois Arakaki, of Kalihi-Palama Health Center, said one of the most valuable educational tools is the locally produced drama "It Can Happen to You," which has been performed for more than 30,000 students in 35 schools in Hawaii and California since 1997.

She read a letter from a Kapolei High School ninth-grader who said she was thinking about having sex until seeing the play: "Many of my boyfriends always asked to have sex, and I always thought I was doing the wrong thing when I said no. Now I'm glad I did say no, and I'm planning on waiting till I'm much older and until I found the right guy."


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