Teen girls endanger their health by sexual intercourse

Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that one in four teenage girls is infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease.

The most startling finding isn't that a significant number didn't know they had an STD. It's that a significant number didn't know they had had sex.Failure to recognize that oral sex, for example, counts as sex - and carries with it the risk of disease - is one sign of how vulnerable and poorly informed sexually active teenagers are.

Local health departments reveal the same statistics.

Officials at the Northern Kentucky Health Department say in the last three yearscases of chlamydia hve doubled and gonorrhea is up by 50 percent.

Cincinnati health officials say high adult chlamydia and gonorrhea infection rates are now being reflected in sharply rising teen rates, and that related diseases, such as human papilloma virus, are also on the increase.

The prematurity - and casual acceptance - of adolescent sexual activity is evidenced by calls the Northern Kentucky Health Department is getting from local middle schools. Staff members want to know how to confront secretive "clubs" in which girls wear different colored bracelets to signal what kind of sexual activity they're willing to engage in - sometimes at school.

Education is the first, best weapon in attacking this growing public health crisis. Parents need to talk to their children about the wisdom of refraining from sex, about STDs, contraception and responsibility for their actions. Schools need to put comprehensive health education back into the curriculum.

The CDC also strongly recommends annual chlamydia screening for sexually active females under age 25, more extensive screening for HIV and gonorrhea, and vaccination against HPV, which increases the risk of cervical cancer.

With 3.2 million U.S. girls already infected, the time for straight talk about STDs is now.