At least one in four teenage American girls has a sexually transmitted disease, suggests a first-of-its-kind federal study that startled some adolescent-health experts.
Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and teens' own sense of invulnerabilty. Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.
Only about half of the girls in the study acknowledged having sex. Some teens define sex as only intercourse, yet other types of intimate behavior including oral sex can spread some diseases.
Among those who admitted having sex, the rate was even more disturbing — 40 percent had an STD.
"This is pretty shocking," said Dr. Elizabeth Alderman, an adolescent medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center's Children's Hospital in New York.
"To talk about abstinence is not a bad thing," but teen girls — and boys too — need to be informed about how to protect themselves if they do have sex, Alderman said.
The overall STD rate among the 838 girls in the study was 26 percent, which translates to more than 3 million girls nationwide, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. They released the results Tuesday at an STD prevention conference in Chicago.
Full report: Study finds 1 in 4 US teens has a STD