Sexually active people of all ages and ethnicities worldwide are at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs are infections caused through intimate contact between heterosexual and homosexual partners, which can then spread to other sex partners of infected individuals. Some STDs can cause infertility, HIV/AIDS, and even death through complications from HIV/AIDS.
STDs can cause serious physical, psychological, and emotional consequences in affected individuals. The statistics are alarming, with 20 million new cases of STDs being reported each year. Over 50% of these new cases occur among teens and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the cost of treating STDs contracted in just one year is $16 billion.
Causes of STDs
STDs are caused by viruses and bacteria which are spread through sexual intercourse, or by direct skin contact with infected areas. The viruses and bacteria responsible for causing STDs can enter the body through small cuts or tears in the mouth, anus, and genitals. STDs can be contracted from both oral sex and sexual intercourse. Some examples of sexually transmitted infections include:
- Genital Warts (human papillomavirus)
- Hepatitis B (HBV)
- HIV and AIDS
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
People who are sexually active at a young age, have multiple sex partners, and/or have casual and unprotected sex are all at a higher risk of getting STDs. The use of alcohol or drugs can put a person at higher risk of infection due to impaired judgment. Also, a lack of awareness, education, and knowledge about STDs increases the risk of an individual contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
Prevention is Key
While abstaining from sex and sexual contact is the only way to entirely prevent infection with an STD, there are additional measures one can take to significantly reduce the risk of developing these infections. Education by physicians, teachers, and parents is essential for prevention. STDs can also be prevented by:
- Regular visits to the doctor before and after becoming sexually active for education on STDs
- Getting vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Condom use
- Limiting drug and alcohol intake
Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms. If you have had unprotected sex, talk to your doctor about getting tested for STDs. Symptoms that may indicate a sexually transmitted infection include the following:
- Painful urination or sex
- Discharge from the vagina, penis, anus, or throat.
- Lesions or a rash on the skin
If you are diagnosed with an STD, any sex partner(s) will need to be notified. The partner(s) will need to be tested for STDs. The testing and treatment of partners limits the spread of STDs to other individuals.
Early evaluation and treatment is essential. Some STDs are entirely curable, others become chronic conditions requiring ongoing monitoring and management.
If you feel uncomfortable seeing your primary care doctor for evaluation or treatment of STDs, there are multiple local clinics that offer confidential examinations and testing. The National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922 is staffed with trained professionals who confidentially answer questions and provide information and guidance. Remember, STD prevention is everyone’s responsibility.
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