COLUMBIA -- The results of a national study on sexually transmitted diseases don't surprise people who deal with those issues in South Carolina, but they hope the numbers raise some alarms.
The study released Tuesday revealed that 26 percent of young women ages 14 to 19 are infected with at least one of four common sexually transmitted diseases.
Such studies provide "a reason for us all to refocus our efforts on a clear and consistent message that abstinence is the first and best choice for our young people," said Forrest Alton, director of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "And if they're going to be sexually active, to make sure they use contraceptives."
The percentages likely are higher in South Carolina, where rates for sexually transmitted diseases rank among the highest in the country. In a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, South Carolina ranked fourth among the states in rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea and 11th in syphilis.
The CDC study noted that rates are much higher among African-Americans, about 48 percent vs. 20 percent among young white women. South Carolina has a higher percentage of African-American population than most states.
That's even more reason for putting extra effort into education and prevention, according to Bonnie Adams, director of New Morning Foundation, a group that focuses on reducing teen pregnancy.
"It is a perpetual issue in South Carolina in terms of not educating young women about sexually transmitted diseases and not investing in prevention," Adams said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has struggled to maintain services at county clinics because of cuts in federal funding, said Tony Price, public information coordinator for the state's sexually transmitted disease program.
"Prevention programs work," Price said. "If we receive the funding, we believe it could work to improve these numbers."
The state Legislature last year gave the sexually transmitted disease program a slight funding boost, which is being devoted to early screening and treatment for the disease symptoms. Considering the high rates of the diseases, that's a pressing need.
But education is the key to reversing the trends. Advocates hope studies like this one will prompt discussion.
"As a society, we have a general unwillingness to talk about this," Alton said. "Parents only want to have PG conversations with youths when they live in an R-rated world."