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Viral and bacterial infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
Adolescence is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood when profound changes occur. This period of tremendous change fulfills important developmental tasks in which the adolescent develops formal operational thought, builds cognitive decision-making skills, forms a sense of self-identity, and expresses the need for autonomy and individuation from the family.
Adolescence is also a time of opportunities and risk, when many health behaviors are established. Although many of these behaviors are health-promoting, some are health-compromising, resulting in increasingly high rates of adolescent morbidity and mortality. For example, initiation of sexual intercourse and experimentation with alcohol and drugs are normative adolescent behaviors. However, these behaviors often result in negative health outcomes such as the acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including the fatal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). As a consequence of STDs, many adolescents experience serious health problems that often alter the course of their adult lives, including infertility, difficult pregnancy, genital and cervical cancer, neonatal transmission of infections, and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
The acquisition and transmission of STDs among adolescents are influenced by complex interrelationships among sociodemographic, biologic, psychosocial, and behavioral factors. For example, many STD-related risk markers (e.g., age, gender, race/ethnicity) correlate with more fundamental determinants of risk status (e.g., access to health care, living in communities with high prevalence of STDs) to influence adolescents' risk for STDs.
Developmental factors such as pubertal timing, self-esteem, and peer affiliation may also increase their risk of exposure to STDs. An assessment of these interrelationships are critical to preventing and controlling STDs in adolescents, yet they are poorly defined and understood. Moreover, since behavior is the common means by which STDs occur, an important first step in fighting STDs is to understand the prevalence and patterns of risk behaviors as well as the psychosocial context in which these behaviors occur.
STDs among sexually experienced adolescents occur at alarmingly high rates. One-fourth of the estimated 12 million new cases reported annually occur among adolescents between ages 15 and 19 years. Moreover, since many STDs are asymptomatic, they are often undiagnosed and untreated, thus increasing their potential for proliferation among adolescents.
Author Info: Cherie B. Boyer Ph.D., Thomson Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence, 1998
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