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STD screening should start early

December 7, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Young women should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases within a year of first intercourse and should be retested every three to four months if an infection is found, according to a study published today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers at Indiana University followed 386 urban women who were age 14 to 17 when the study began. They found that most participants had intercourse at a young age (between 13 and 15). By age 15, 25% of the women had acquired an STD, most often chlamydia. The average time between first intercourse and the first STD infection was two years. Repeated infections were common. Within six months, 25% of the women with prior chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis were reinfected.

Many untreated STD infections carry serious health consequences, including raising the risk of developing a serious infection called pelvic inflammatory disease, HIV infection and later infertility, ectopic pregnancy and preterm birth. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommendations for STD screening, but those documents are somewhat vaguely worded. "Neither group has made evidence-based recommendations on the most appropriate starting age and the most appropriate frequency of screening," the authors wrote in the paper. This study suggests that starting at a young age and conducting regular screening may prevent many health problems among women later.

-- Shari Roan