Background: Adolescent offenders may be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). With previous research and interventions focused on incarcerated adolescents, data are needed on STD prevalence and risk factors among newly arrested youth released to the community, a far larger subgroup.
Methods: Participants were recruited from all arrested youth processed at the Hillsborough County, Florida Juvenile Assessment Center during the last half of 2006 (506 males, 442 females). Participants voluntarily providing urine samples for drug testing as part of standard protocol were also consented to having their specimens split and tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea, using an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplification test.
Results: STD prevalence was similar to those previously reported among incarcerated adolescents: 11.5% tested positive for chlamydia, 4.2% for gonorrhea, and 13.2% for either or both infections. Prevalence was significantly higher among females: 19.2% of females had either or both infections compared with 10.5% of males. Prevalence was higher for 17 to 18 year olds (15.2% of males, 25.5% of females), blacks, detained youths, drug users, and those engaged in sexual risk behaviors. Previous STD testing experience was limited.
Conclusions: The study indicated that a voluntary STD screening protocol is feasible for arrested youth entering the juvenile justice system, and these offenders are at high risk for STDs. Because most arrested youths are released back to the community, routine testing and treatment of recently arrested youths, and expanded access to risk reduction and prevention programs, can yield substantial public health benefits.