The CDC estimates that 20 million new Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) infections occur each year, and sexually experienced persons aged 15-24 make up over one-half of all new infections. With so much information in the public eye about using condoms to prevent STDs, why do the numbers continue to rise? It’s STD Awareness Month, which is a great time to understand the problem and seek more solutions.
An Accelerating Epidemic
An STD is passed through intimate unprotected physical contact including vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse, and even through heavy petting. It can also be transmitted through skin to skin contact with an infected person or intravenous drug use. An infected pregnant woman can additionally pass an STD to her infant.
In a September 2017 report from the CDC, more than 2 million diagnosed cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis were reported in 2016 with the majority being from chlamydia.
“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”
Since many STDs do not have obvious symptoms, many people do not get tested, remain infected, and continue to infect their partners.
Who is Most At Risk?
While an STD infection can happen to anyone, what part of the population is most at risk for infection?
- Those who engage at sexual activity at an early age.
- Those who inject drugs.
- Men having sex with other men.
- Those having multiple sexual partners concurrently.
- People having sequential partners in short duration.
- Those not using a condom.
Teens and young adults who remain on their parents health insurance until 26 present a big obstacle to curbing this epidemic. Recent surveys tell us they avoid testing and talking to their doctor because they don’t want their parents to know about their sex practices, or they are just embarrassed.
The result is a significantly low percentage of young people on their parents insurance getting tested regularly, or at all.
The Good News
The only ways to prevent infection are to not have sex at all, reduce your risk by using a condom, and only be in a relationship with someone who does not have an STD. Beyond these three choices, there are other ways to effectively reduce the number of infections.
Start by Talking
Parents can begin to communicate with their teens at an early age. Studies show that teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to wait to have sex, and use protection. Find opportunities like after a relevant movie or TV show or when alone in the car. Best practice is a continual dialogue letting them know they are loved and you understand. Take the initiative and leave the room, so your child can have private time with the doctor. Encourage them to speak openly to the doctor.
Teens and young adults should talk to their health care providers about their sexual health. Ask to be screened and tested for STDs. Talk openly and honestly with your sexual partner(s) about how to prevent infections, and encourage them to get tested.
Ask your provider at Brigham Faulkner Ob/GYN to set up testing for you. Even if there are no symptoms, it doesn’t mean you are not infected. Be sure to ask your healthcare professional how often you should be tested.
Be Faithful to Treatment
Most STDs can easily be treated with antibiotics especially if diagnosed early. The serious problems arise when infections are left untreated. Honest communication and testing can increase the good news and reduce Sexually Transmitted Diseases.