The findings, to be published in the May issue of the peer-reviewed journal AIDS and Behavior and available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10461-005-9044-8, indicate that there is an urgent need for outreach programs targeting sexually active homeless youths -- who are at particularly elevated risk for becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- for early STD screening.
Contracting an STD can predispose one to becoming infected with the deadly virus that leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), said Dr. Rosa Solorio, assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study's lead researcher. Some of these infections do not present symptoms and these youths may not be aware of the need for testing, despite the high rates of STDs among them.
"We have to screen these youths to prevent a more negative outcome like HIV," Solorio said. "They need timely STD detection and treatment, and what the study shows is that the kids who are at highest risk are not getting tested."
The researchers surveyed 261 homeless youth who were aged 12 to 20, had been away from home at least two nights but less than six months and, if under age 17, were away from home without their parents' or guardians' permission or had been kicked out of the house. They were interviewed over 12 months between 2001 and 2002. The subjects were selected from 17 shelters and drop-in centers and 13 street hangout sites throughout Los Angeles County. Of those surveyed, half had been sexually active in the previous three months.