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Parents urged to warn children of STI risks

Parents are being urged to talk to their children earlier about sex after a warning from health experts that they are starting to experiment at a younger age.

Two girls between the ages of 10 and 14 contracted chlamydia last year, bringing to 13 the total number of children in that age group who have had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosed since 2010. “The experimental age has definitely dropped,” said Gloria Burgess, a nurse and the Department of Health's maternal health and family planning coordinator. “Parents need to start talking to their children earlier, and their teens.”

Dy-Juan DeRoza, the assessment officer for the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, said the children who contracted chlamydia in this age group were “generally girls”.

“People have sex and when parents realise that, when teachers realise that, they get more comfortable teaching sexual health education or inviting us in to come and do it, then the message can go further,” she said.

The Hamilton Health Centre displays information about STIs and the Department of Health has been spreading the message about safe sex through a variety of tools, including health fairs and specially designed male and female condoms.

It also advises parents on how to speak to their children about sex through the Becoming an Askable Parent brochure.

STIs are covered as part of Bermuda's school curriculum.

According to a report published by the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, the overall number of reported cases of chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis in Bermuda has dropped, led mainly by a decrease in chlamydia infections.

But healthcare professionals at the Hamilton Health Centre warned that STIs still present a serious risk, especially in a day and age where children are exposed frequently to sexualised messages and pornographic material is easily accessible.

“These things parents can have some control over,” said Kim Ball, the Department of Health's HIV co-ordinator.

The Government report showed that most STI cases were reported and diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. Last year there were 416 reported cases, compared to 505 in 2010. About 45 per cent were contracted by those between the ages of 15 and 24, and about 43 per cent were reported by 25 to 44-year-olds. Women reported 60.8 per cent of cases and men 39.2 per cent.

Ms DeRoza said that although the number of chlamydia cases appears to have dropped, it is still higher than in the United States.

“Chlamydia is consistently high, with over 300 cases,” she said. “Our rate is higher than the US for chlamydia, even with the drop, per 100,000.”

According to the report, chlamydia infections have dropped from 430 in 2010, to 312 last year, and gonorrhoea infections fell from 31 in 2010 to 25 in 2014, although there were 68 reported case in 2011, 65 in 2012 and 40 in 2013.

Reports of syphilis have ranged from three in 2010 to seven last year. The number of cases of genital herpes, however, has increased from 39 in 2010 to 72 last year.

Ms DeRoza said: “You can only say it's gone down if you assume the testing levels remain the same and that health-seeking behaviours remain the same.”

And according to Ms Ball, the numbers may have dropped because people are not getting tested or are not noticing symptoms.

But Ms Ball said she has also seen a change in attitudes towards STIs.

“People don't have as much fear; it's like they don't see the impact of AIDS in the eighties, even early nineties,” she said. “It's a very nonchalant attitude.

“I see less tears, less embarassing emotion in the clinic. There was one time when people felt embarrassed and ashamed.

“I would say it's a sign of the times because if you look at people's presentation, what we listen to, how we dress, how we think, how we not all the time are caring about the next person - I think that your overall willingness to care about your own sexual health is also impacted.”

Ms Burgess added that people are focusing more on the treatment than prevention.

And according to nurse and epidemiologist Jennifer Wilson, people often don't understand that they are at risk of contracting STIs if they have multiple sexual partners.

“There's no forethought and they need to realise that sexually transmitted infections are still out there, HIV is still out there even though people don't look like they used to. Even though those numbers look like they are low, the risk is still there.”

That's why it is so important to have honest and open conversations between sexual partners, she added.

“They often don't know the person's name, they don't know their previous sexual history. You kind of wish they would learn how to have a conversation with their partner before they even start thinking about engaging in sex.”

Ms Ball added: “We can put the message out there but I've often said that education does not mean behaviour change. People have to value themselves a lot more than they currently do.”

• For more information visit www.health.gov.bm or view the full report by clicking the link under “Related Media”.

Here to help: from left, healthcare professionals Kim Ball, HIV co-ordinator; Rosalyn Mingo, public health nurse; Sharon Symonds, administrative assistant; Dy-Juan DeRoza, assessment officer; Susan Jatto, lab supervisor; Jennifer Wilson, nurse epidemiologist; and Gloria Burgess, the maternal health and family planning coordinator (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published November 16, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated November 16, 2015 at 8:07 am)

Parents urged to warn children of STI risks

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