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Rate of sexual diseases among youth increases

February 16, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Reported cases of the sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia and gonorrhea have more than doubled among Washington County youth in the last seven years, according to recent figures from the Washington County Health Department.

In 1997, the Health Department reported 63 chlamydia cases in males and females ages 12 to 19. By 2003, there were 160 cases of male and female chlamydia cases, the report states.

There were 33 cases of gonorrhea among the same demographic group in 1997, but by 2003 the number of cases increased to 51, according to the report.

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Washington County Director of Public Information Rod MacRae said the increase in cases implies a rise in the rate of infection because there has been no significant population increase.

Meanwhile, individual female chlamydia cases have more than doubled in the last seven years, according to the report.

In 1997, there were 58 reported chlamydia cases among females ages 12 to 19. By 2003, the number of reported cases grew to 136, the report said.

County health officials haven't identified a cause for the spike in chlamydia cases. They encourage teens not to be afraid to seek medical treatment, MacRae said.

"A lot of teens don't know they can come here for confidential treatment and they don't have to have parental consent," said Tammi Spangler, a nurse who treats teenagers at the Health Department at 1302 Pennsylvania Ave. in Hagerstown.

Spangler said young women don't always realize that chlamydia, if left untreated, can lead to infertility.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are bacterial infections with few apparent symptoms.

"Up to half of all cases may not be aware they even have it," said Dr. Mark Jameson, a clinic physician with the health department.

Jameson said the most common chlamydia symptoms in women can include a vaginal discharge, which could develop into pelvic inflammatory conditions in some cases.

Males suffering from chlamydia may experience a burning sensation during urination and a clear discharge.

Gonorrhea symptoms in women also include a vaginal discharge.

A small percentage of women may experience lower abdominal pain associated with pelvic inflammatory disease.

Males may experience a thick, yellowish discharge, along with a burning sensation during urination, Jameson said.

He said chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, and condoms can help prevent the spread of both diseases.

For additional information on symptoms and treatment, contact the Washington County Health Department at 240-313-3200.

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