January 21, 2018
Understanding STDs

Understanding STDs

by Berkeley Wellness

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs (more accurately referred to as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, because it’s possible to be infected without developing any signs or symptoms), are the most prevalent kinds of infections in the United States.

In recent years, HIV/AIDS has received far more attention than other STDs. Yet researchers have identified more than 20 sexually transmitted infections, and the most common ones—which include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, hepatitis B and trichomoniasis— affect an estimated one out of four Americans. Millions of new cases are reported every year—and these are only a fraction of all cases, since many cases go unreported, undetected and untreated.

Chlamydia is now the most commonly reported bacterial infection in the United States, with more than 1.3 million cases in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 300,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported in 2010, and data show that HPV and genital warts are extremely widespread. Moreover, the actual number of cases for these and other STDs is probably much higher than the reported number, since many cases go undetected or unreported.

STDs are about twice as likely to be transmitted from a man to a woman as from a woman to a man. Diagnosis and treatment of STDs are harder in women than in men, and the long-term consequences of any STD may be more severe: chronic pelvic pain, infertility or passing a disase on to a fetus.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, often have no symptoms in women and, if untreated, they can cause damage to reproductive organs and lead to tubal pregnancies. Chlamydia, which can lead to diseases of the male urinary tract, also typically produces no symptoms in men.

Although the rate of chlamydia is almost three times higher in women than in men, some of the difference is likely due to the fact that a greater number of women get screened. Many of the sex partners of women with chlamydia are not being diagnosed or reported as having chlamydia—though that is changing. With the introduction of more sensitive diagnostic tests in recent years, symptomatic and asymptomatic men are increasingly being diagnosed. From 2005 through 2010, the reported rate of chlamydial infection in men increased by 38 percent, compared with a 20 percent increase in women during the same period.

Be Responsible

If you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease (STD), do not have sex again until you have seen a doctor and been tested.

Genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) also are widespread, and the incidence of gonorrhea, though beginning to decline, remains high— about 300,000 cases are reported each year. Although rates of these and other STDs are highest among adults in their 20s, STDs are not confined to the young. Syphilis affects nearly 14,000 people a year, but the number of cases may be considerably underreported.

Most STDs are treatable. Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be cured with antibiotics. Genital herpes, genital warts and AIDS cannot be cured, but they can be treated or managed. However, no sexually transmitted disease can be accurately diagnosed and treated without professional help. There are no home remedies, so see a doctor or another healthcare professional if you are infected or suspect you might be. If you are diagnosed with an STD, ask your doctor to check for others; since all STDs are transmitted in a similar way, you may have been exposed to more than one type of infection. Even better, take the necessary steps to prevent getting infected in the first place. (Detailed information on the treatment of specific STDs is available at the CDC website.