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STD Awareness Month

Thursday, April 14, 2016

There is no anecdote to introduce this topic only startling statistics that paint a serious picture.   April is Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Awareness month.  The CDC and World Health Organization recently released some numbers that illustrate a serious epidemic and its consequences.

  • Globally, more than 1 million new STDs are acquired every day.  

  • There are 20 million new STDs each year in the United States; that is, almost 55,000 new cases each day.

  • The CDC states that for the first time in nearly a decade, rates for three of the most common STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) all increased at the same time.

  • There are more than 110 million STDs overall among men and women nationwide (this includes both new and existing infections.)  

  • American youth, ages 15-24, make up just 27% of the sexually active population but account for 50% of the 20 million new STDs each year.  

  • Young people, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continue to be at greatest risk for infection.

Globally, more than 1 million new STDs are acquired every day.  

There are 20 million new STDs each year in the United States; that is, almost 55,000 new cases each day.

The CDC states that for the first time in nearly a decade, rates for three of the most common STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) all increased at the same time.

There are more than 110 million STDs overall among men and women nationwide (this includes both new and existing infections.)  

American youth, ages 15-24, make up just 27% of the sexually active population but account for 50% of the 20 million new STDs each year.  

Young people, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continue to be at greatest risk for infection.

Out of the eight most common sexually transmitted diseases, four are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.  The other four are viral infections and are incurable:  hepatitis B (HBV), herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV).  The issue, however, is not simply whether it is curable or incurable; it is – do people know they have a STD and are they are being treated.  80% of people who have a STD experience no noticeable symptoms.  Because they are not feeling ill, they quite often do not get screened.  The STD in the meantime may be causing damage.  In addition, the STD may be passed onto a partner.  For example, 200,000 cases of gonorrhea where diagnosed and reported among 15-24 year olds last year.  The CDC estimates that in reality there were 570,000 total new gonorrhea cases in that age group.  Likewise, 1 million youth were diagnosed and reported to have chlamydia.  Again, the CDC estimates the actual number to be 1.8 million cases.  Any STD can have health consequences ranging from discharge from the vagina or penis and a burning sensation while urinating to infertility and cancer.  

Because many of these infections go undetected, people, especially young women, are at risk for long-term health issues.  The most common STD, for instance, is HPV.  There are over 100 strains of the HPV virus.  About 90% of the HPV infections will go away on their own within two years.  Some of the HPV strains, however, will lead to genital warts or cervical cancer.  Women are also disproportionately affected by chlamydia and gonorrhea.   Undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea can spread to a woman’s uterus and fallopian tubes causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  While some women with PID experience abdominal and pelvic pain, others have no symptoms.  With or without symptoms, PID can cause permanent damage including long-term pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially deadly ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).  Undiagnosed STDs cause 24,000 women to become infertile each year.  

In addition, lifelong infections such as Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV-2), HBV, and HIV have potentially severe consequences.  HSV-2 can lead to painful chronic infection, miscarriage or premature birth, and fatal infection in newborns.  HBV can lead to cirrhosis. HIV weakens the immune system increasing the infected person’s susceptibility to a number of diseases.  HIV can also lead to AIDS.  Almost 18,000 people in the United States die with AIDS each year.  

Sexually transmitted diseases have a profound effect on society.  The numbers are staggering and the short and long-term consequences are painful and potentially deadly.   The CDC recommends the following steps to prevent a sexually transmitted disease:

  • Abstain from sexual relations (vaginal, anal, and oral) – The surest way to avoid STDs is to not have sex.

  • Mutual monogamy – Agree to have sex with only one person who also agrees to only have sex with you.  Make sure both parties get tested to know for sure that neither has a STD.

  • Talk with your partner – Reveal your history and risk level to your partner. Discuss getting tested together.

  • Use condoms – correctly every time you have sex, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

  • Get vaccinated for HPV – the vaccine can help you avoid HPV related health problems such as genital warts and some cancers.

  • Get tested – Even if you have only had one partner or only engaged in sexual activity once.  

  • Get treated if you have a STD.

Abstain from sexual relations (vaginal, anal, and oral) – The surest way to avoid STDs is to not have sex.

Mutual monogamy – Agree to have sex with only one person who also agrees to only have sex with you.  Make sure both parties get tested to know for sure that neither has a STD.

Talk with your partner – Reveal your history and risk level to your partner. Discuss getting tested together.

Use condoms – correctly every time you have sex, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Get vaccinated for HPV – the vaccine can help you avoid HPV related health problems such as genital warts and some cancers.

Get tested – Even if you have only had one partner or only engaged in sexual activity once.  

Get treated if you have a STD.

This is a very complex health issue that requires education and open, frank conversations.  To learn more about sexually transmitted diseases, risks, symptoms, effects, and treatments, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/std/.  To learn more about STD screening, speak with your physician or contact the Livingston County Department of Health’s Reproductive Health Center at 585-243-7540 or 1-800-243-9240.  The Reproductive Health Center has three locations in Mount Morris, Avon, and Dansville.  All offer low-cost or no-cost STD and HIV testing.  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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