STDs cause serious illness, sometimes even death

| April 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Lisa Scheidelman
U.S. Army Public Health Command
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS, Md. — April is sexually transmitted disease (STD) awareness month, an annual effort aimed at educating the public about prevention, treatment and risk reduction.
STDs are serious problems affecting both military and civilian communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 20 million new STDs occur annually in the U.S., contributing to 110 million cases — all of which are preventable. Nearly half of cases occur among young adults aged 15–24.
STDs burden America’s youth, and cost the health care system almost $16 billion each year.

STDs 101
Common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis and trichomoniasis.
STDs can cause infections within multiple body sites, including the eyes, mouth, throat, anus, penis, vagina and liver.
Anyone who has unprotected sex — whether it’s oral, vaginal or anal sex — is at risk.
STDs can also be spread from mother to baby, by sharing needles, syringes or razors, or using unclean tattoo or piercing equipment.
STDs don’t always produce recognizable symptoms, but can still be spread to others. It’s also impossible to tell if someone is “clean” just by looking at them.
When symptoms occur, they are usually mistaken for another skin condition, bladder or vaginal infection. In general, STDs can cause painful urination, itching, discharge, swollen testicles, bleeding between periods, sores, warts or lesions.

Long-Term Complications
Untreated STDs can lead to irreversible problems in males and females. For instance, untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in females, a condition causing reproductive complications.
STDs can also cause health effects in newborns.
HPV can cause cancer of the penis, anus, cervix or throat. Syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and C are serious diseases that can result in long-term health problems — and even death.

Treatment
Some STDs can be cured with antibiotics; others are permanent, but treatment can help manage symptoms. Medication must be taken as prescribed and not stopped early, even if symptoms improve. This care will prevent STDs from becoming resistant and eventually untreatable.

High-Risk Activities
Participating in high-risk activities can lead to an STD. Activities include having unprotected sex, not always using condoms, having multiple sex partners, frequent one-night stands or exchanging sex for money or products. Also, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair judgment and lower inhibitions.
Social “hook up” networks and mobile applications allow for easy ways to meet new people, but it’s not always safe and can lead to high-risk activities.

Screening
It is important to get tested. Military treatment facilities offer free, confidential testing, treatment and counseling for beneficiaries. Civilian public health departments also offer testing.
To locate a center, text your zip code to GYTNOW (498669).
Testing for most STDs can be as easy as providing a urine, blood or saliva specimen.
People who participate in high-risk activities should be frequently tested for HIV and STDs. The Army requires annual chlamydia screening for female Soldiers under 25. Additionally, all Soldiers are required to be tested for HIV at least once every two years.

Vaccination
Only a few vaccines are available to protect against STDs. The HPV vaccine is recommended for males and females 11–26 years old.
Military personnel, infants, children under 18, high-risk occupations or participants in high-risk activities should also receive the Hepatitis B vaccination.
The Hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended for those who engage in anal sex; two doses of the vaccine are needed.

Risk Reduction
Remember, STDs are preventable. Sexually active individuals must use protection (male or female condoms) every time to prevent getting or spreading an STD.
Practicing mutual monogamy between uninfected partners can also prevent infections.
(Editor’s note: Scheidelman is an epidemiologist at USAPHC.)

STD Awareness
For more details and prevention tips, visit these sites:
www.afhsc.mil/msmr.
www.cdc.gov/std/stats/STI-Estimates-Fact-Sheet-Feb-2013.pdf.
To locate a center, text your zip code to GYTNOW (498669).

 

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