Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. CDC’s new estimates show that there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, costing the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs. STDs have surged for the fifth straight year, reaching an all time high. So ... let’s talk specifics and personal information so you can determine if you are at risk.

Perhaps current advice to prevent COVID-19 exposure is also in order for these diseases. Avoid close encounters with others! There are a host of sexually transmitted diseases. Gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV might be most familiar; however, chlamydia, hepatitis, herpes (HSV), warts (HPV), trichomonas, bacterial vaginosis, and others also exist. Older adults, not fearing pregnancy, use condoms less and have rising STD rates. In younger individuals there is tragically a disturbing increase in these diseases — with special concern about congenital syphilis for reproductive age females.

Congenital syphilis — syphilis passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy — can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and neurological problems. There has been a 185% increase in cases of congenital syphilis since 2014. All pregnant women should be tested. Adolescents should be vaccinated to prevent HPV, which could prevent future cancers of the genital tract.

Social distancing or abstinence is the most reliable way to avoid infection. This includes sexual encounters of any kind: vaginal, anal or oral. Avoiding multiple partners is important to reduce exposure to STD “germs.” If you are sexually active, stay in a monogamous relationship with someone who has been tested and doesn’t have an STD. Finally, using condoms is helpful not only to prevent pregnancy, but many STDs if used properly. However, condoms do not protect from all STDs, such as herpes or HPV.

Anyone who is sexually active in any form should be tested because many STDs are not symptomatic. Antibiotics can cure syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. However, left untreated, STDs can be transmitted to others and produce adverse health outcomes such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increase one’s risk of HIV. Some STDs such as HIV or herpes can only be managed — not cured.

If you are sexually active, talk with your health care provider about testing. Tests are readily available, but your health care provider needs to know some specific information about your sexual practices to order the right tests. Some of the questions that should be routinely asked are:

1. Have you ever been sexually active?

2. What is/are the sex and gender of your partner(s)?

3. How many partners have you had in the last 12 months?

4. What types of sexual activity do you have?

5. When was the last time you got tested for STIs?

CDC recommends the following screening:

All adults and adolescents from ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV.

All sexually active women younger than 25 years should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year. Women 25 years and older with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has an STD, should also be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.

All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B starting early in pregnancy. At-risk pregnant women should also be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea starting early in pregnancy. Testing should be repeated as needed to protect the health of mothers and their infants.

All sexually active gay and bisexual men should be tested at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Those who have multiple or anonymous partners should be tested more frequently for STDs (i.e., at 3- to 6-month intervals).

Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent HIV testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).

Anyone who has unsafe sex or shares injection drug equipment should get tested for HIV at least once a year.

I encourage you to ask your healthcare provider if you need testing and make sure you report any symptoms or changes that might concern you. If you need additional information, consult the CDC website at: https//www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm or contact the Floyd County Health Department at 706-295-6123.

Sharon Baker, BSN, MN, CWHNP is the president and founder of Women’s Information Network Inc. She may be reached at 706-506-2000 or by email at baker8483@comcast.net.

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