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Disturbing new research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows one in four American teenage girls is infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease. Disturbing, yes, you may say, but not that relevant to Utah, where the rate of these diseases is below the national average.

Let's not get complacent. Utah's incidence of gonorrhea increased faster here than anywhere else in the nation between 2000 and 2005, and the rate of chlamydia has grown alarmingly. Nationally, the most common STDs are the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, chlamydia and genital herpes or trichomoniasis.

The Utah Legislature this year passed House Bill 15, which requires the state Department of Health to educate the public and health-care professionals about the link between the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and their potential side effects, including infertility and sterility.

In its original form, the bill would have been a huge step in the right direction. But the amended version provided only half the original appropriation - just $175,000 - and it limited the educational campaign to chlamydia and gonorrhea.

While those two diseases are currently heading the list of STD risks in Utah, it's likely only a matter of time before the other most common diseases in the United States also become a problem here. The bill also expressly exempted public schools from receiving any of the health department information about the diseases, their side effects, treatment and agencies that can help with treatment.

That limitation ignores the fact that STDs are increasing in precisely the population that attends public secondary schools - teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19. Why not provide the "medically accurate" information required by HB15 directly to those girls most susceptible to infection?

The answer, of course, is that Republican legislative leaders won't allow comprehensive sex education or anything approaching it in public schools. The head-in-the-sand philosophy that dictates abstinence-only as the sole type of sex education available to our young people is a dangerous stand that is putting them at risk.

The statistics indisputably show that leaving comprehensive sex education, including information about STDs and their consequences, to parents is not working. Education is the weapon teenagers need to fight this epidemic, and it's our responsibility to arm them.