Protection vital to prevent disease
Irish Examiner 30/11/2005
by Ailin Quinlan
Ignorance among teenagers of the need to use condoms
to protect against sexually transmitted infections
(STIs) is believed to be a major factor in the surge
in notified cases of STIs.
According to the latest figures form the Health
Protection Surveillance Centre, the total number
of notified cases of STIs among those under 19 shot
up from 231 in 1996 to 1226 in 2003.
In total, the overall number of notified STIs rose
by nearly 112% from 5263 to 11153 between 1996 and
The increasing incidence of chlamydia trachomatis
- a genital disease which has no symptoms in 50%
of women and 70% of men, and which can result in
infertility and and increased risk of pregnancy
- is particularly worrying.
Between 1996 and 2003 notified cases of chlamydia
leapt from 364 to 2258 while non-specific urethritis
rose form 823 notified cases in 1996 to 2332 in
The official igures may only be the tip of the iceberg,
according ot Dr Mary Cronin, a specialist in public
health at the centre: "Notified cases represent
the reported cases only. Many cases go unreported.
Also because many of these STIs are asymptomatic,
or silent - chlamydia or gonorrhoea can be described
as the silent epidemic - that makes us concerned
that the number of actual infections that are not
diagnosed is also very high."
would be very concerned about the rise of STIs"
she says, adding that they have been on the rise
since the mid-1990s. The lack of awareness among
teenagers of the need for protection against STIs
is a serious issue, says Teresa McElhenny, SHB senior
health promotion officer.
are not really talked about. It is not something
young people are aware of. They are not mentioned
much in the media."
Cronin believes teenagers may be unaware of the
risks or in denial. "Maybe they do not have
the confidence or the ability to wear a condom.
It is a very complex issue. We need to get out the
message that it is important to wear a condom to
protect against STIs as it is to use contraception
to avoid pregnancy. Teenagers are under the illusion
that oral sex is safe," she says.
recalls some students who came in to interview her
about the issues of teen pregnancy and sexuality.
had done a vox pop on Grafton Street as part of
their project and they were amazed that the focus
appeared to be on pregnancy - it seemed that there
was not the same awareness about STIs."
worry is that the youn girls who are getting chlamydia
may experience problems with fertility or ectopic
pregnancies. Genital warts can be spread on fingers,
oral sex can be a vehicle for transmission of STIs."
further warns that it may not be beyond the bounds
of possibility that the trend of 'fingering' may
contribute to the problem - "it is about the
exchange of body fluids."
best protection is abstinence, next to being faithful
to one partner - or wear a condom every time,"
should give their teenagers the confidence to negotiate
safe sex, she says. "A lot of teenage girls
do not have the bottle to ask for condom to be used,
especially if there is alcohol taken."