Louisiana group warns about STDs, advocates abstinence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 12, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – While AIDS is well publicized, most people know little about the 24 other major sexually transmitted diseases – or the fact that the most common STD can’t be prevented by &uot;safe sex&uot; methods.

That’s the message the Governor’s Program on Abstinence is conveying during a 100-city summer tour that included a Wednesday morning meeting with nearly 30 concerned citizens at Ferriday’s Town Hall.

More than 1 million Louisiana residents have STDs – including about 5,125 in Concordia Parish alone – resulting in $60 million in direct medical costs statewide, said Dee Burbank, a New Orleans public health doctor taking part in the tour.

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An estimated 25 million people have human papilloma virus nationwide, and an estimated 5.5 million new cases will occur this year, according to federal statistics.

&uot;That shocked me,&uot; said Liz Brooking of Ferriday, who attended the meeting and plans to volunteer with the program. &uot;Once you’re hit in the face with those statistics, it’s hard to ignore. It ought to wake us up – and if it doesn’t, we’re stupid.&uot;

But HPV, which causes almost all of cervical cancer, is not tracked by the Centers for Disease Control. It can only be diagnosed through DNA testing and often shows no symptoms until complications arise. It can’t be prevented by condoms and is incurable.

That is what makes encouraging youth to abstain from sex outside of marriage so important, said Dan Richey, a former state senator from Ferriday and director of the Program on Abstinence.

Concordia is the site of Louisiana’s pilot abstinence education program, which started in public schools last spring.

&uot;Why are Americans not hearing about (HPV)?&160;That’s the $64 question,&uot;&160;Richey said. &uot;But I’ve seen that when faced with a big enough problem, the public will adjust their pocketbooks or their conduct to remedy the problem. We’re doing this tour in order to raise public awareness about the problem of STDs&uot; and to recruit volunteers for grassroots campaigns to educate local people on the problem, Richey added.

&uot;There’s a lot of talk this year about the Olympics in Sidney, but America is winning a fool’s gold medal,&uot; Burbank said. &uot;We’re first among industrialized nations in our rate of STDs.&uot;

The public has two choices, said Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, who also took part in the meeting. One, he said, is to keep telling youth the &uot;comfortable lie&uot;&160;that condoms will keep them completely safe from STDs.

The other choice is foster frank and open communication with youth and to educate them about the dangers of STDs and unwanted pregnancies – and the option of abstinence. &uot;People say sex among young people is unavoidable,&uot; Mills said. &uot;But that’s just not true.&uot;

So in addition to the Concordia Parish pilot program, the Program on Abstinence is also working to develop such projects as a grass-roots abstinence campaign, an information center and Web site and a college campus project.

&uot;STDs are a problem in Concordia Parish, the U.S. and the world,&uot; Brooking said. &uot;But we can do something about that if we work together.&uot;