I’m sure most of us have heard of STDs or STIs at some point or another in our lives. But what are they, how do you keep yourself from getting one, and what happens if you do end up with one?
Let’s start with what they are. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and/or Sexually Transmitted Infections are diseases and infections caused by a bacteria or virus contracted through sexual contact. The most common STDs that are seen in the United States and that public health deals with are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis. Some other ones you might have heard of are HPV, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and Herpes. Vaccinations are available to prevent getting Hepatitis B and some strains of HPV that can cause cancer. In 2017, there were 1.7 million cases of chlamydia, 555,608 cases of gonorrhea and 30,644 cases of syphilis in the United States. This was a 22 percent, 67 percent, and 76 percent increase, respectively, since 2013. Half of all new STDs are in people under the age of 25 years old. Meigs County had 42 cases of chlamydia and eight cases of gonorrhea in 2018, both of which were slightly higher than the past two years.
Now that we’ve discussed what STDs are and have seen the numbers, let’s talk about how you can prevent yourself from become one of those statistics. As mentioned earlier, STDs are contracted through sexual contact. This can be vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact. The most reliable way to prevent yourself from contracting an STD is to abstain from sexual contact. A couple other ways to prevent contracting an STD is using a latex condom the right way, from start to finish, every time you have sex and being in long term monogamous relationships. While birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring, and IUD are great ways of preventing pregnancy, they do not protect you from getting STDs.
So, what happens if you get an STD? Fortunately, all of them are treatable, most of which are curable. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell if someone else, or even yourself, has an STD. Many of them don’t cause any symptoms. Because of this, the only ways to know for sure is to get tested. Not all checkups include testing for sexually transmitted diseases, so it’s important to ask. Be open with your healthcare provider and sexual partners about testing. If you test positive for an STD it is important that you let your partner know. If STDs go untreated the can lead to the inability for women to get pregnant or cause complications during pregnancy, long term pelvic or abdominal pain, and can increase your risk of giving or getting HIV. While anyone who has sex is at risk of contracting an STD, young people aged 15-24, gay and bisexual men, and pregnant women are more affected.
At the end of the day, remember the 3 T’s of STDs: Talk, Test, Treat. TALK with your partners and healthcare providers about STDs. Get TESTED, it’s the only way to know for sure if you have an STD. If you test positive, get the proper TREATMENT from your healthcare provider and inform your partners. For more information on STDs visit www.cdc.gov/std/.
Mikie Strite, MPH, is the Meigs County Health Department Epidemiologist.