The CDC estimates there are 20 million new sexually transmitted infections in the United States each year. Nearly HALF of all new sexually transmitted infections in the US are in young men and women. - CDC 2015
April is STD Awareness Month and Dr. Scott Wilson of First Care, SIMED’s walk in urgent care center, provides valuable information on sexual health.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), are infections that are transmitted through sexual activity. The route of transmission may be oral, anal or vaginal contact. Many STDs cause no or minimal initial symptoms in the infected individual, which is why it is important to get tested regularly.
STDs can be broken up into 3 categories: viral, bacterial and protozoan parasites. Viral Infections - HIV, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis A/B/C, and Herpes I/II- are examples of vital STD’s. When encountered these are often able to be controlled with certain medications or procedures; however, they are not curable at this time.
HIV: With HIV, there may be a flu-like illness that occurs with the initial infection. Then, the infected individual may have no signs or symptoms of infection for months to years. HIV can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is lifelong disease in which certain cells of the immune system are destroyed, allowing multiple infections to cause disease in various areas of the body, and if untreated death.
HPV: The most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States is Human Papillomavirus (HPV). An infected individua,l especially females, may have no symptoms, or they might experience genital or anal warts. When left untreated, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to cervical cancer in women, emphasizing the importance of regular PAP smears for sexually active females. A vaccine is recommended for all young men and women to reduce risk of HPV infection.
Hepatitis B, and C: Hepatitis is an inflammatory condition affecting the liver. Hepatitis B and C can be acquired from sexual contact and are the leading cause of liver cancer, and the most common reason for liver transplantation. Vaccines are available to prevent Hepatitis A and B, but to date not for Hepatitis C.
Herpes I, II: With Herpes the initial infection is usually the most severe with sores/blisters appearing on the mouth, rectum or genital area. Some individuals also experience flu-like symptoms that occur with the initial outbreak of infection. Subsequent outbreaks may be very mild, without any symptoms or blisters present.
Bacterial Infections - can be cured with antibiotics. Common STD bacterial infections include Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Syphilis. Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease.
With Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, there may be burning with urination and a discharge from the penis or vagina. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in women, the infection can spread to the reproductive organs causing infertility, and sometimes chronic pelvic pain.
With Syphilis, there may be an initial painless sore or lesion in the genital area. If it goes into the secondary phase, a rash appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Syphilis, if left untreated, can lead to serious problems up to 10-30 years after infection, such as difficulty coordinating muscle movement, dementia, blindness, paralysis and even death from damage to internal organs.
Protozoan Parasites - are parasites that are spread through sexual activity. For example, Trichomonas is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite. It is treatable with antiprotozoal medications. Trichomonas may cause burning with urination and a discharge from the penis or vagina.
How You Can Protect Yourself?
Prevention for sexually transmitted infections can be accomplished by:
1- Getting vaccinated for those diseases with available vaccines, such as HPV, Hepatitis B
2- Practicing safe sexual protocols, like using condoms consistently and correctly
3- Reducing your number of sexual partners
4- In certain high risk populations for HIV, getting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to lower your risk
When to Get Tested?
The CDC’s Recommendations for Sexually Transmitted Infection Screening are:
1- All adults and adolescents should be tested at least once for HIV (however, one may need to be tested more frequently if not practicing safe sexual procedures)
2- Annual Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening for all sexually active women 25 years old and younger, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners
3- Annual Gonorrhea screening for sexually active women
4- Syphilis, HIV, Chlamydia, and Hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women; Gonorrhea screening for at risk women at the first prenatal visit;
5- Trichomonas screening in women at high risk of STD’s and annually in all HIV-infected females;
6- Screening at least once a year for Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HIV for all sexually active gay men and bisexual men.
SIMED offers STD testing in our Urgent Care at First Care and Primary Care offices. If you have questions about sexual health or would like to request a STD test, request an appointment online by clicking here.