A bill intended to address what some Utah public health officials are calling an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among teens and the 20 to 35 year age group received unanimous committee approval this afternoon.

The rate of syphilis, clamydia and other STDs is up by a factor of four over the last 10 years, according to the state health department. The unexpected increase is alarming to doctors because patients often have no idea what they're dealing with — neither what the diseases are, how harmful they can be or how the are spread.

Symptoms often disappear after the onset stage, but left untreated, a person'a neurological system can be targeted, inducing blindness, dementia and sometimes death.

HB15 requires information detailing the serious personal health consequences of untreated STD's be provided to all local public health departments, and provides money — $350,000 in ongong state funds — to ensure that information is disbursed.

Local public health staff would provide options for treatment of STD's and where services and insurance coverage for that treatment can be obtained.

HB15 endorses sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage as being the surest prevention of STD's.

But the fact is — and the number of cases supports — that young people are not abstaining, said bill sponsor Rep. Phil Riesen, D-East Millcreek. "And we need to do what we can to make sure they are told that these diseases can have life-long, sometimes even life-threatening effects."

Untreated an STD will harm a woman's ability to become pregnant, but it can also can create infections of the reproductive organs that can lead to infection in the reproductive organs and ultimately death, said Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of the state health department.

"I don't want to sound alarmist, but an increase in STD's is bound to be followed by an increase in the cases of HIV," Sundwall said. "This is a fundamental and necessary step toward doing our best to protect the public health."

In Utah, where the trend has been upward for several years, there were more than 5,000 cases of chlamydia cases in the past year, the vast majority diagnosed in people ages 15 to 24. Gonorrhea rates are jumping again after hitting a record low, and an increasing number of cases are caused by a "superbug" version resistant to common antibiotics.

Sundwall said decisions about sexual health and sexual behaviors made during adolescence can have lifelong effects. Those range from teen pregnancy that can affect health, educational, and economic opportunities for the child and parents to human papilloma virus infections that can result in cervical cancer or chlamydia infections that can cause infertility.

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