Sexually transmitted infections, also known as STIs or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), are common—too common. In fact, the number of Americans infected with certain STIs has risen significantly over the past few years, and young people are most affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those between the ages of 15 and 24 make up almost half of all newly diagnosed STIs in the United States, though people of every age are potentially vulnerable.
In addition to the STIs you’ve definitely heard about, like HIV and herpes, there are a lot of lesser-known STIs that you might not even realize pose a risk. Some examples are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis. hepatitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), trichomoniasis, and pubic lice or crabs. The good news: STIs are preventable and, in most cases, treatable.
Jessica Smith, who holds a degree in public health, reveals what you should know about STIs and how you can protect yourself and others.
Are more people being diagnosed with certain STIs ?
JS: The CDC reports the largest increases in cases of chlamydia (22 percent increase since 2013), gonorrhea (67 percent increase since 2013), and syphilis (76 percent increase since 2013).
What are some reasons for the increase in STI cases in the United States?
JS: New challenges, such as the link between drug use and STIs and sexual assault crimes have all impacted the numbers.
Lack of information about STIs and prevention may also be partially to blame. Some women mistakenly believe that the use of birth control methods, such as the pill, intrauterine device (IUD), patch, or ring, can prevent them from contracting STIs. However, this is not the case. Hormonal birth control methods only prevent pregnancy and do not offer any protection against STIs. If you choose to use a birth control method, such as the commonly used Yasmin or an IUD, you should also use latex condoms if you are at risk of contracting an STI with your partner.
Younger females between the ages of 15 and 24 made up nearly half of the reported cases of chlamydia, which may be the result of a lack of education and access to resources. Men who have sex with men are also at a higher risk for contracting certain STIs, such as syphilis.
How important is regular testing?
JS: Regular testing for STIs is the best way to diagnose these conditions early and make sure you get proper treatment. Many STIs are completely treatable, although if they aren’t diagnosed and treated, they can lead to health complications. For example, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea can all be cured with antibiotics, but they can cause infertility, an increased risk of HIV, ectopic pregnancies, and even stillbirth in infants if they are not treated.
The CDC recommends that all sexually active women under the age of 25 and all men who have sex with men be screened at least once per year for STIs. Additionally, those who have new or multiple sex partners, have experienced sexual assault or rape, have symptoms of STIs, or have concerns about sexual health problems should be screened regularly. STI screening is common practice among pregnant women as well, to help protect their health and the health of their babies.
How can STIs be prevented?
JS: The only foolproof method for preventing an STI is abstinence, although the use of latex male condoms greatly reduces the risk of contracting a disease. However, if you are in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with a single partner and both of you have been screened for STIs, you are at a much lower risk.
Certain STIs can also be prevented through vaccines, such as HPV. This STI can cause cervical cancer if untreated, so vaccination is highly recommended for female patients between the ages of 11 and 27 years and male patients between the ages of 11 and 26 years. You can also use an at-home test for HPV.
HIV can be prevented through the use of latex condoms and safe sexual practices. Those who are in a sexual relationship with a partner who is HIV-positive may benefit from PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a once-daily pill that contains emtricitabine and tenofovir.
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