April 2011 is STD Awareness Month, an annual observance to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases’ (STDs) impact on Americans’ health and the importance of individuals discussing sexual health with their healthcare providers and partners.

STDs are a major public health issue:

  • CDC estimates more than 19 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States.
  • In 2009, there were more than 1.5 million total cases of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea reported to CDC- making them the two most commonly reported infectious diseases in the United States.
  • STDs have an economic impact: direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at $17.0 billion annually.
  • Half of new STD infections occur among young people ages 15 to 24 even though this age group makes up 25% of the sexually active population.
  • African Americans account for approximately half of all reported Chlamydia and Syphilis cases and almost three-quarters of all reported gonorrhea cases even though they represent just 14 percent of the U.S. population.

The Importance of Testing

To build on current progress and reduce disparities, it is important to increase knowledge about sexually transmitted infections and make STD testing a part of routine medical care. Because many STDs have no symptoms, those at risk need to get tested and find out if they are infected. CDC’s current testing guidelines include:

  • Annual Chlamydia screening for all sexually active women under age 26, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners.
  • Yearly Gonorrhea screening for at-risk sexually active women (e.g., women age 25 and younger, those with new or multiple sex partners, and women who live in communities with a high burden of disease).
  • Syphilis, HIV, Chlamydia, and Hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and Gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women at the first prenatal visit, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.
  • Screening at least once a year for Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HIV for all sexually active gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men.
  • HIV screening for everyone between the ages of 13 and 64. Those at high risk for HIV infection (e.g., injection drug users and their sex partners, persons who exchange sex for money or drugs, sex partners of HIV-infected persons, and heterosexuals or men who have sex with men who themselves or whose sex partners have had more than one sex partner since their most recent

What You Can Do

  • Talk with your doctor or health care provider about STDs and ask about recommended vaccinations and testing. Here at Wareham Pediatrics Associates this can be done confidentially.
  • Get tested. Visit www.findSTDtest.org to find STD testing locations near you.
  • Don’t let embarrassment at the thought of having an STD keep you from seeking medical attention. Waiting to see a doctor may allow a disease to progress and cause more damage. If you think you may have an STD, or if you have had a partner who may have an STD, you should see a doctor right away
  • Talk openly and honestly with your partner about STDs.

FACT or FICTION

Myth: Only “trashy” people get STDs.

Fact: STDs don’t discriminate.

Rich people get STDs. Poor people get them. Athletes get them. Math geeks get them. CEOs and professors get them. Even someone having sex for the first time can get an STD. The only people who have no risk of getting an STD are people who haven’t had sex or any kind of sexual contact.

What can you do? If you decide to have sex, always use a condom every time. Even if you’re already on another kind of birth control, like the Pill, you should still use a condom. That’s because condoms are the only type of birth control that reduces the risk of getting an STD.

Myth: If your partner has an STD, you’ll see it.

Fact: There’s often no sign that a person has an STD.

Even doctors often can’t tell by looking if people have STDs. So they need to do tests, like blood work. People with STDs might not know they have them: STDs don’t always cause symptoms. But it is possible to carry and spread the virus without ever having an outbreak. Untreated STDs can add up to serious health problems, like infertility (the inability to have a baby) or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may land you in the hospital.

What can you do? Even if you both think you’re clean, get checked out before having sex. Then use a condom every time, just to be sure. It can take a while for some STDs to show up on tests.

Myth: You can avoid STDs by having oral or anal sex.

Fact: Where there’s sex (oral, anal, vaginal, or even just sexual contact), there can be STDs.

The viruses or bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genitals. Some STDs, like herpes or genital warts, can spread just through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore.

What can you do? Use a condom or a dental dam every time you have oral or anal sex. If the taste of latex isn’t your thing, there are flavored condoms made specifically for oral sex.

Myth: Once you’ve had an STD, there’s no chance of getting it again.

Fact: You can get some STDs more than just once.

Some STDs are yours for life, like herpes and HIV. Others, like Chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be treated, but you may get infected again if you have sexual contact with someone who has them.

What can you do? Protect yourself with condoms, of course! And if you’re having sex, let your doctor know so you can get tested regularly. If you do get diagnosed with an STD, your partner should be treated at the same time you are. That way your partner will avoid future problems — and avoid reinfecting you.

Myth: If you get checked and you’re STD free, your partner doesn’t need to get checked as well.

Fact: Your partner could have an STD and not know it.

Who wants to make the effort to get tested, find out they’re clean, and then end up catching an STD from a partner anyway?

What can you do? Get tested together. It may not be your most romantic date, but nothing says “I care” like trying to protect a boyfriend or girlfriend from illness.

STDs are more than just an embarrassment. They’re a serious health problem. Left untreated, some STDs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility and even death.

There are tons of myths out there about sex and STDs — the ones above are just a few of them. Luckily, you only need to remember two essential truths:

  1. Use condoms.
  2. Get tested.

Information brought to you by:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348, 24 Hours/Every Day – cdcinfo@cdc.gov

KidsHealth.org