STDs—sexually transmitted diseases — are at a record high in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. For the fourth year in a row, the number of Americans diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis has increased, with almost 2.3 million people diagnosed with one of these three diseases in 2017 — 200,000 more than were diagnosed in 2016.
Who Is at Risk for an STD?
As the name implies, STDs are spread through sexual contact, orally, vaginally or anally. Sexually transmitted diseases can affect anyone regardless of age or background, but some groups are more at risk.
In the U.S., about half of the cases occur among young people 15 to 24 years old. Other populations with a higher incidence of STDs include gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and some racial and ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.
About STIs and STDs
STDs start off as a sexually transmitted virus or bacteria that causes an infection, or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Although STIs and STDs are not technically the same, the names are often used interchangeably.
In many cases, STIs and STDs have no symptoms or mild ones that can be overlooked. But left untreated, STDs can cause serious complications.
Chlamydia is the most prevalent of these diseases and accounted for 1.7 million cases of STDs in 2017. Both men and women can get chlamydia, which can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system and ectopic pregnancies. A pregnant woman can pass chlamydia to her baby during delivery, causing an eye infection that can lead to blindness or pneumonia in the newborn.
Often, there are no signs or symptoms present with infection. However, in women, symptoms of chlamydia may include abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation during urination. Men may notice penis discharge, burning during urination or, more rarely, pain and swelling of the testicles.
Gonorrhea diagnoses have grown 67 percent since 2013, and the disease has proven to be a tricky one because strains are developing that are resistant to antibiotics. As with chlamydia, gonorrhea is spread through oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person infected with the disease. And, as with chlamydia, a pregnant woman can pass the disease to her baby during delivery.
Untreated, gonorrhea can increase your chances of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDs. In addition, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can lead to ectopic pregnancies, and infertility in men and women.
As with chlamydia, there are often no signs or symptoms present with infection. However, symptoms of gonorrhea include burning or pain during urination, discharge from the vagina or bleeding between periods in women, and in men, painful urination, penis discharge and painful testicles.
Syphilis was once a disease predominantly found in men who have sex with other men, but more recently, health officials are seeing increases among women and heterosexuals. Syphilis has several stages, with symptoms of the primary stage being single or multiple painless sores.
Untreated, the disease can move into the secondary stage, with symptoms that include skin rashes and possible lesions in the mouth, vagina or anus. You also may develop a fever, sore throat and headache, or experience weight loss and patchy hair loss.
Although these symptoms may go away on their own without treatment, the disease can still advance into the tertiary stages, which can occur 10 to 30 years after the infection begins, affecting the brain and multiple organs and leading to death.
Fortunately, when diagnosed, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis all can be treated. However, damage that already may have occurred from the diseases might not be reversible. The best option is to avoid getting these diseases in the first place.
- Become educated on STDs and STIs. Know if you are in a high-risk population for becoming infected, how to minimize the risk and what the disease symptoms are.
- Practice abstinence. The surest way to avoid getting an STD is to avoid sexual activity, including oral, vaginal and anal sex.
- Use protection. Condoms, when used correctly every time, can decrease the chances of becoming infected.
- Get tested. Talk with your doctor about the recommended frequency of testing, based on your lifestyle and risk factors.
- Limit your partners. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship, in which you both get tested, can decrease your chances of getting a disease.
- Get vaccinated for the HPV virus, if eligible.
STD diagnoses are reaching new levels, and are serious diseases, even though they initially present few symptoms. It is vitally important to take precautions to prevent diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis from developing into life-altering complications.
Get Screened for STDs
STDs spread easily because it’s not always obvious that your sexual partner has an infection. Screening is quick and easy. The more information you have, the better you can protect yourself and your partners.Request an Appointment