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SEXUAL DISEASES SHOCK FOR KIDS.

Byline: HELEN CLARKE

CHILDREN as young as 13 are being treated for sexually-transmitted diseases in Merseyside.

Experts are warning of a sharp increase in the number of young people catching potentially -deadly infections through sex.

One health agency is planning a strategy to educate school children about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, targeting pupils as young as 11.

The number of north west teenagers treated for sex-linked infections has more than doubled in seven years from 2,565in 1995 to 6,331in 2002.

Treatments for the under-20s covered syphilis, uncomplicated gonorrhoea,chlamydia,herpes and genital warts. Health experts are very concerned at a rise in the number of chlamydia infections, which can lead to infertility.

Liverpool GP Dr Suraj Sharma, who runs a surgery in Everton, says that 25 years ago he would treat four or five 13 to 16-year-olds for STDs. In the past five years the figure has doubled to nine a year.

Describing it as a ``significant increase'' he said: ``I think it's to do with promiscuity, boys and girls wanting to become adults too quickly.''

Royal Liverpool hospital staff have noted a rise in the number of younger teenagers seeking treatment,and say some are as young as 13.

A spokesman for the genitourinary medicine (Gum) clinic said: ``Obviously there's a higher incidence now in young people. That's been supported by the number of teenagers now coming in the Gum clinic.

``Young people are coming through more and more. We've seen people as young as 13.''

The Gum clinic used to run open sessions for those seeking treatment for sexual diseases but because of the demand they now have to see patients by appointment only.

Liverpool's Brook service offers sexual health advice to people under 25.

Sue Ryrie, from the organisation, said the most worrying trend had been a rise in chlamydia cases.

The government has widened a chlamydia screening programme to include Liverpool, which will boost screening.

She said: ``Not enough has being done to stop this disease and it's a bit of an epidemic. But hopefully things will now happen to do something about it.''

Professor Mark Bellis, a public health expert from Liverpool John Moores University, said: ``One in 10 sexually active people have had a sexually-transmitted disease at some point in their life.

``Some studies show a lowering in the age of first sex. We have also seen a rise in drug and alcohol consumption, both are linked to unprotected sex and having sex earlier.''

He said the only way to solve the problem was better education on sex and drugs and offering young people ``real and affordable diversions''.

The North West Health Protection Agency, which is responsible for public health in the region, is launching a strategy to educate school children about sexually transmitted diseases.

The agency will target children as young as 11 and work with education chiefs across the region.

Regional director Professor Qutub Syed said: ``Young people need to learn about the nature of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and Aids,how they are spread and how to avoid them.''

The strategy will also educate children and young people about diet and exercise, and highlight the dangers of smoking and drugs.

Annette Lyons, senior adviser to Liverpool council on sexual health education in schools, said: ``We're aware of the rise of STDs and some of the attitudes of young people have -that if you have got an infection,go along and get some antibiotics.

``We are trying to change that through a high-profile campaign to put sexual health back on the agenda.

In the past 18 months, an external consultant has been working with children in junior schools,high schools and special schools, to discuss issues such sexual health.

A team of teachers is also being offered specialist sexual health education training.

They will become specialists in this field and share their knowledge with other high schools.

Psychologist Susan Quinn, an expert in sexual health, said youngsters who caught a disease through sex could be traumatised for life.

``If it's handled sensitively, it's an opportunity for the young person to get some facts and make a choice about what they're doing.

``If it's handled badly, they might be so traumatised,it might put them off sex forever.''

CAPTION(S):

DR SURAJ SHARMA
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 5, 2004
Words:715
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