February 19, 2009
More than 70 percent of STD cases in the Tampa Bay area were among people ages 15-19, affecting about 3 percent of all teens in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in 2007, according to state Department of Health data. That is more than double the historic low rates of the early 1990s.
Local STD figures increased from 7,350 cases in 2007 to 8,500 cases last year, according to preliminary estimates, said George Hughes of the Hillsborough County Health Department. Better screening methods explain some of the increase, but there is no doubt that too many children are having unprotected sex, said Hughes, who called on public schools to provide more information about condom use.
"They don't think kids are having sex," Hughes said of school officials. "They need to look at the numbers. They need to take their heads out of the sand."
Chlamydia accounted for 70 percent of local STD cases; it was the fastest-growing STD last year. Gonorrhea and syphilis cases were down slightly from 2007, but not enough to encourage Hughes. "With people's lack of access to medical care, I'm sure there are many cases we haven't discovered," he said.
"With syphilis we're dealing with sores and rashes," Hughes said. "That's the perfect pathway for HIV. That concerns me to no end and should concern school officials."
However, schools are not keen to distribute condoms through on-site nurses, as Hughes also recommends. "That's not really our place," said Steve Vanoer, Hillsborough schools health education supervisor. "We do discuss condoms in middle school, but I do think we could do more. We do not demonstrate condoms. We talk about the effectiveness of condoms."
A bill introduced in the state House and Senate would require public school sex education to be "comprehensive, medically accurate, and factual." A similar measure failed last year.