YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s something no one really wants to talk about, especially with kids. But, sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the Mahoning Valley.
This year, children as young as 10 will be treated for sexually transmitted infections in the Mahoning Valley. And data from the Ohio Department of Health shows the infection is spreading.
Over the last five years in Mahoning County, 1,157 people reported new cases of chlamydia in 2014 — a 16 percent increase from the year before. And, with the exception of a jump in reported gonorrhea cases in 2011, the number has been gradually increasing, with 10 more cases reported this year as opposed to last year.
In Trumbull County, 293 teens ages 15 to 19 were diagnosed with chlamydia and 69 with gonorrhea in 2014. In Columbiana County, those number were 79 and 15, respectively.
No one can pinpoint a reason for the increase, but say it is important for parents to talk to their children about these issues.
In fact, the largest number of STD cases were reported by those ages 15-24, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health. More than 350 Mahoning County teens ages 15 to 19 were diagnosed with chlamydia in 2014, and 109 with gonorrhea in that year.
“There are still those taboos, those things you don’t talk about. And children, teenagers don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about certain things so who do they go to? Their peers,” said Joy Smith, YWCA child advocate.
In Austintown, a long-standing program called Operation Keepsake tries to break down those taboos. The program offers peer-to-peer support to resist risk behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, sex and violence, as well as encouraging their friends in abusive relationships to seek help.
“This is a social piece, and as a school system, we have to explain the education piece of it. But the moral piece and the value piece goes back to the parents,” said Austintown Local Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca.
The disease is hitting women more than men. The state says more than 20 percent of the new cases are young women under the age of 21.
Teens in a health class that WKBN spoke with feel that peer pressure has a lot to do with risky behavior.
“Friends will say, ‘Oh, try this,’ and I think boys will like want to do that stuff more than women,” said student Jaylaya Kitchen.
These infections can be prevented, but taking that extra step to prevention can be hard for young people.
“Nobody really considers the consequences, act before they think,” said student Jack Chepke.
Educators say parents need to get over their fear of talking to their kids about sexually transmitted infections.
“That can be a very hard conversation to have, and one where you may feel uncomfortable. But in the same regard, it can be very uncomfortable taking your daughter or your son to the hospital for chlamydia at age 10,” said Austintown Health Teacher Paul Farr.
The Ohio Department of Health released its five-year statistics for STDs reported in Mahoning and Trumbull counties: