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Sexually Active Teens Urged To Use Condoms

Sexually Active Teens Urged To Use Condoms

Recent figures highlighting New Zealand’s rising chlamydia rates have prompted health professionals to urge teenagers who are sexually active to protect themselves when having sex.

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research’s annual report on sexually transmitted infections, carried out for the Ministry of Health, shows that chlamydia rates in some parts of New Zealand are six times higher than those reported in Australia and four times higher than those reported in the United Kingdom. The infection is particularly prevalent in young people aged 15 to 19 years.

Sexual health physician Nicky Perkins warns that teenagers can pay a high price for risky sexual health practices.

“If left untreated, complications from chlamydia can include pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal scarring and subsequent pelvic pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancy.

“And because chlamydia often has no symptoms, young people may be unaware that they have been infected. Sometimes evidence of past infection is only detected when a couple is having problems conceiving.”

She says that the message to teens is simple, ‘if you are going to have sex, use a condom’.

“Used correctly, condoms prevent the transmission of STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea and also reduce the risk of contracting herpes and wart virus infection.”

Dr Perkins urges parents to talk to their teenagers about safer sex.

“Most parents would rather their sons and daughters waited until they were older before becoming sexually active. However, many young people are having sex and need information that will help to protect them from sexually transmitted infections.

“One study found that over 20 percent of secondary school students were sexually active#, while others put the figure of 14 and 15 year olds having sex at between 30 to 40 percent*.

She is supportive of a Ministry of Health campaign to be launched later this year that will encourage sexually active teenagers to use condoms to protect themselves.

“Many teens have little knowledge about sexually transmitted infections; both in terms of how they’re contracted, and how they can be prevented. Sexual health services have been encouraging teenagers to use condoms for years. The campaign will highlight this message nationally.”

#New Zealand National Secondary School Youth Health Survey 2001. 2003. Adolescent Health Research Group. *Dickson N, Paul C, Herbison P, Silva P, First sexual intercourse: age, coercion, and later regrets reported by a birth cohort. BMJ 1998; 316: 29-33. Fenwick R, Purdie G. 2000. The sexual activity of 654 fourth form Hawkes Bay students, NZ Med J: 460-3. *

Information from Sexually Transmitted Infections in New Zealand: Annual Surveillence Report 2003

The 2003 annual report summaries STI data collected from 25 sexual health clinics (SHCs), 42 family planning clinics (FPCs) and 15 student and youth health clinics (SYHCs) across New Zealand. Data is supplemented by laboratory surveillance of chlamydia and gonorrhoea by 10 laboratories in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Auckland regions. This represents two thirds of the microbiology laboratories in these areas.

Chlamydia trachomatis infections are now the most commonly diagnosed STI in New Zealand. Over the past five years the number of confirmed chlamydia and gonorrhoea cases diagnosed at SHCs has increased by 65.5 percent and 57 percent respectively. Young people remain at high risk of STIs; 65 percent of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and genital warts diagnosed at SHCs are in those less than 25 years. In the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, chlamydia rates in 2003 were six times higher than reported in Australia and four times higher than the UK (excluding Scotland). Gonorrhoea rates were double that reported in Australia and the UK (excluding Scotland). 3857 confirmed cases and 628 probable cases of chlamydia were reported at sexual health clinics in 2003. 1728 confirmed cases and 494 probable cases of chlamydia were reported at Family Planning Clinics in 2003. 312 confirmed cases and 9 probable cases of chlamydia were reported at student and youth health centres in 2003. Chlamydia does not have any symptoms in approximately 70 percent of female and 50 percent of male cases. Untreated infection can lead to the development of serious sequelae, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy and infertility in females; and urethritis, epididymitis and infertility in males. Infants born vaginally to infected mothers can be infected during delivery resulting in neonatal conjunctivitis or pneumonia. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of confirmed chlamydia cases increased by 13.4 percent in SHCs (3857 compared to 3401), 25.9 percent in FPCs (1728 compared to 1373), and decreased by 20 percent in SYHCs (312 compared to 390). In FPCs, the chlamydia rates were highest in females aged 15 to 19 years and in males aged 20 to 24 years. In SHCs and SYHCs rates were highest in females less than 15 years and in males aged 15 to 19 years. In SHCs the rate of chlamydia in Māori was nearly three times higher than in those of European ethnicity. In FPCs chlamydia rates in male Māori and Pacific peoples were three times higher than in males of European ethnicity. Over the past five years, the total number of chlamydia cases (confirmed and probable) has increased by 53.8 percent in SHCs and 27.4 percent in SYHCs. From 2000 to 2003, when the number of participating FPCs has remained stable, the number of confirmed chlamydia cases has increased by 226 percent.

Note: The report summarises the epidemiology of STIs, using data from SHCs, FPCs, SYHCs and diagnostic laboratories in New Zealand. The figures presented may underestimate true infection rates because not all clinics and laboratories participate and STIs diagnosed by a range of other health care providers, such as GPs, are not included in this report. It is also important to note the denominator used in calculating disease rates. Rates based on clinic data use the total number of clinic visits, whether for STIs or other conditions, as the denominator. Rates based on laboratory data use the total ‘usually resident’ population, in the District Health Boards covered by laboratory surveillance, from the 2001 New Zealand Census.

Sexual Health Campaign

The Ministry of Health is currently developing a sexual health campaign that aims to increase safer sex in order to reduce the incidence of STIs in 15 to 19 year old New Zealanders, particularly Māori and Pacific youth. Sexually active young people will be encouraged to ‘use a condom’.

The campaign is about supporting the choices made by teens – whether that is to have sex, or to wait. Those who make the choice to have sex need protection if they are to be safe from STIs.

The campaign, which will go to air in mid-November, will use a variety of media, including television, cinema, radio, outdoor advertising, magazines, texting and print resources.

The campaign is being developed with ongoing support and advice from a working group made up of key organisations with an interest in sexual health. Working group members include representatives from the Family Planning Association, NZ AIDS Foundation, Te Puawai Tapu, the NZ Prostitutes Collective, sexual health physicians, district health boards and the Ministry of Health.

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