One in two sexually active young people will get an STD by the age of 24. Most won’t know it. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get yourself tested. April is recognized as STD Awareness Month. Many STDs are curable and all are treatable. Unfortunately, every year there are more than 19 million new STD cases in the U.S. Nearly half of these cases are among young people between 15 and 24. STDs often lack noticeable symptoms and can be contracted from partners who don’t have a clue they have an infection.
The most common STD is chlamydia. An estimated three million Americans are infected each year and one in ten adolescent females test positive for this disease. Left untreated, chlamydia can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and infertility, cystitis and mucopurulent cervicitis in women. It can cause prostatitis, scarring of the urethra, epididymitis and infertility in men. Furthermore, chlamydia causes biological changes that make it easier for HIV to infect both men and women. Unfortunately, women with chlamydia are five times more likely to get HIV if exposed to the virus. Chlamydia is preventable and 100 percent treatable.
HPV is better known as genital warts and 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some point during their lives. Recent data indicates that approximately 79 million persons are currently infected with HPV, and 14 million persons are newly infected each year in the U.S. A recent study by the CDC shows that 66 percent of cervical cancers, 55 percent of vaginal cancers, 79 percent of anal cancers, and 62 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV types 16 or 18. Each year approximately 26,000 new cancers are attributable to HPV infections. There are two vaccines available for both males and females that are directed at both HPV types 16 and 18 associated cancers. ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommends that girls and boys be routinely vaccinated for HPV at 11 or 12 years of age. They further recommend that individuals who were not vaccinated when they were younger should be vaccinated up through the age of 26 for women and 21 for men. HPV vaccine is readily available and covered by most insurance plans. Cancers related to HPV can be dramatically reduced and even prevented with a simple vaccine.
Reducing the burden of disease and cancer associated with STDs is an important public health problem. It requires an integrated approach that includes clinical medicine, public health, and public policy. Advocating for our own health care is important to this end. Ask your health care provider about recommended screenings and vaccines at any age. Make decisions regarding the course of medical care for your family based on facts and the realities of life. Things don’t always turn out the way they are planned. Sometimes planning for a contingency is the best plan of all. This April, plan to know your status.