STDs – The “Underestimated Opponent”

The CDC recently released the 2015 National Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and the rising numbers are disturbing. The CDC’s forward begins by very accurately labeling STDs as a long-standing “underestimated opponent in the public health battle”. We CANNOT continue to ignore sexually transmitted infections and assume it is “those people over there” and not OUR crowd who gets these infections! While ZIKA VIRUS has definitely opened up more non-judgmental discussions about STDs, we have a long way to go. Here are a few highlights from the report:

  • CHLAMYDIA, the most common bacterial STD, has increased it’s rate by 5.9% from 2014, with over 1.5 MILLION cases reported (and an estimated 3 MILLION actual cases), including 645.5 cases per 100,000 females, and 305.2 cases per 100,000 males. Simplified testing (with urine samples rather than only pelvic exams, for example) have increased the number of people tested, so yes that explains some increase, but the overall number is still…huge. And why do we care? Because undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia infection can lead to chronic pelvic pain, more serious infection (PID-Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), and even infertility. The vast majority of chlamydia infections are SILENT, so if you don’t think you are “at risk” so you don’t get screened, you will not know you have it. Between 10-30% of untreated chlamydia infections progress to PID, and 10-20% of those cause infertility. Think of the emotional, physical and financial burden that could be eased…if people simply were tested routinely, so diagnosed and treated.
  • GONORRHEA, another bacterial STD, was on track to be eliminated back in 2009, but we are going the wrong direction now with a rate increase of 12.8% AND increased drug resistance. We literally only have ONE recommended treatment now for gonorrhea (a combination of an injection of ceftriaxone and an oral dose of azithromycin) and resistance is growing. How many actual cases? Not the 1.5 MILLION reported number like chlamydia, but approaching a half million at 395, 216 cases. And once again, this is only the number reported. More disease + less cure = SCARY. Untreated gonorrhea, like untreated chlamydia, can cause chronic pelvic pain, PID, and infertility, not to mention spreading throughout the body to joints, the heart and the brain (meningitis).
  • SYPHILIS is far less common that Chlamydia or Gonorrhea, with a bit less than 24,000 cases in 2015, but unfortunately this disease is rising as well, and sadly there were still 487 babies born with congenital syphilis last year.

These three STDs can be detected and treated successfully IF sexually active people will get tested regularly, but we have to improve our education and social dialogue so everyone understands that sexually transmitted diseases are underestimated on a personal basis, because we still think you can tell what “sort” of person would have these infections.

BOTTOM LINE: If you are sexually active with a new partner, then you are that “sort” of person that could have an STD- because we ALL are, regardless of income, social status, religious beliefs or gender preferences. GET TESTED!! (And expect your partner to do the same.)

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