According to the American Sexual Health Association, more than half of all people will have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or infection (STI) in their lifetime, and recent estimates reveal that there are nearly 20 million new STIs every year in the United States.
STDs can also have a negative impact on future fertility, adds Nicole Scott, MD, a gynecologist at Indiana University Health, and some are not curable (such as HPV, HIV, and Herpes). In other words, many people think most everything can be treated these days but that’s not true. Here are some other things to remain aware of when it comes to your sexual health.
What are the most common STDs today?
According to Dr. Scott, chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhea are the most common STDs people contract. In fact, recent statistics put annual cases of chlamydia at 1.5 million. “Herpes outbreaks are treatable but have the potential to recur for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Scott. “Chlamydia and gonorrhea are more responsible for more serious infections like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and can lead to infertility.”
Are there any STDs that are proving harder to treat?
“There have been almost double the number of reported cases of syphilis in the last two years,” says Dr. Scott. Antibiotic resistance is also a problem for gonorrhea and syphilis. “If there is concern for antibiotic resistance, patients need to be on stronger antibiotics (often with more side effects) for a longer duration,” says Dr. Scott.
What is the best way to prevent a STD?
“Condoms are still best in preventing transmission, but may not prevent transmission of herpes or HPV, as those can be transmitted with close contact that a condom would not cover,” says Dr. Scott. “I recommend the HPV vaccine for men and women of eligible age, currently approved for ages 9-26, a three shot series.”
What are some symptoms of the most prevalent STDs?
Though they are difficult to diagnose without a doctor’s visit, Dr. Scott suggests paying attention to the following symptoms:
- Chlamydia. Often asymptomatic, but can have irregular bleeding, vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain.
- Herpes. Painful, blister-like sores on genitals; outbreaks last 10-14 days.
- Gonorrhea. Often asymptomatic, though usually a green/yellow discharge, pain during intercourse or urination.
- Syphilis. Painless ulcer on genitals for primary symptoms; secondary symptoms include a rash. Tertiary syphilis patients will exhibit neurologic symptoms. Latent syphilis will have no symptoms until relapse.
- HPV. Most have no symptoms. Depending on the strain, however, some patients may have genital warts or abnormal pap smears.
What should a person do if they suspect they might have a STD?
“I recommend abstaining from sexual activity until the patient gets a clean bill of reproductive health,” says Dr. Scott. “While not emergent, it is important to seek testing early when possible to avoid complications of STDs.” Good resources include Planned Parenthood, the Public Health Department and your gynecologist. Exposure to STDs does not require an emergency room visit unless other serious symptoms are present (i.e. acute pelvic pain, nausea/vomiting, heavy vaginal bleeding).
“STD protection offers reassurance and can help decrease anxiety about contracting infections,” says Dr. Scott. “It is also an opportunity for open dialogue between partners which I believe adds to intimacy.” In other words, speak up, stay smart and enjoy the security that comes with knowing you’re respecting your body.
-- By Kimberly Dawn Neumann