There’s been a lot of information swirling around about preventing the spread of infectious diseases, particularly viruses. The COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) pandemic has given everyone a front-row view of how respiratory infections can be passed easily from person to person. However, respiratory illnesses are not the only type of infection that can be spread throughout a population.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are an ongoing public health problem that affects millions of Americans each year. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that over 20 million new cases of STDs are diagnosed each year, with a majority of them in people who are 15 to 24 years old. Some people will be completely asymptomatic, some will only experience uncomfortable symptoms, some can become infertile, and some will die. Everyone’s body responds differently to a virus.
The best way for you to prevent having an STD is by knowing what they are and how they are passed from person to person. By understanding the risk factors of STDs, you will be able to make informed decisions to keep yourself safe and infection-free.
What Are STDs?
STDs are preventable infections that can be passed from person to person during sexual activity. This does not only mean sexual intercourse but all activities of a sexual nature.
Some of the most common STDs can have long-lasting or even dire repercussions:
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea are bacterial infections that can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, they can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, which is not only painful but can cause infertility.
- Syphilis is another bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics, but it can result in death if not treated.
- Herpes, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are all viral infections that usually require long-term treatment to suppress symptoms. HIV and hepatitis B and C can be fatal. However, there is now a curative treatment for hepatitis C – talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) is a viral infection that can be passed by close genital contact. Some strains cause genital warts, and some cause cancer.
- Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that can be treated with antibiotics – but if left untreated, it can cause changes in your cervix. It can also cause premature delivery of a baby, the transmission of the parasite to the baby during childbirth, and a baby with low birth weight.
Many STDs do not cause symptoms, but there are some basic things you can watch for. If you experience anal itching, burning, an unusual or foul-smelling discharge, pain while urinating, pain while having sex, or any new growths, you should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. Depending on your individual lifestyle, your provider may recommend routine screening.
Risk Factors for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
15-24 Years of Age
In the United States, about 50% of all people who are diagnosed with STDs are between the ages of 15 and 24 years. In this group, the younger your first sexual encounter, the higher your risk of being infected with an STD.
Because men can be asymptomatic with many STDs and because they penetrate the female vagina during sexual intercourse, men pass STDs more readily to women than women do to men. While condoms are not foolproof, they can greatly reduce your chances of getting an STD. Additionally, pregnant women run the risk of causing harm to the fetus with certain STDs.
Research indicates that both men and women who are members of minority groups, particularly those of Black or Mexican heritage, have a higher incidence of STDs.
New Partners, Multiple Partners, and Partners with a History of an STD
If you have a new partner, ask if they have had multiple partners, if they have been screened for STDs, and if they have a history of any STD. It is recommended that both you and any new partner be screened by a healthcare provider prior to your first sexual encounter.
History of STD
Anyone with a prior history of an STD, particularly HIV/AIDS, is at a higher risk of carrying any other STD. In other words, having an STD makes you more vulnerable to being infected with another STD in the future.
Men Who Have Sex with Men
It is reported that men who have sex with men are more likely to be carrying an STD that can be passed on to others. This is particularly true with HIV, although increased rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia have also been reported.
Unprotected Sexual Activity
Any sexual acts that occur without condoms can result in the transmission of STDs. This includes both vaginal and anal sex. Even with oral sex, STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can be transmitted. Remember that some people may not be having symptoms but can still pass on the disease.
Family Healthcare Providers in Kent, Washington
If you have any concern that you have been exposed to an STD, ask your healthcare provider for the tests that are right for you. The healthcare providers here at FamilyCare of Kent include board-certified family nurse practitioners who are licensed by the state of Washington. Our goal is to help you maintain your healthiest you, and that includes your sexual health.
If you have any questions about STDs or any other health issues you’d like to address, call (253) 859-2273 (859-CARE) or fill out our appointment request form online now. We look forward to seeing you!