In your mental file cabinet, it’s easy to place sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) under “problems that affect other people.” But a startling new report from the CDC just may shatter your illusions.
About 20 million new cases of STDs occur each year, meaning your chances of becoming infected are greater than you think. Ignore the risk at your peril—left untreated, some STDs can cause cancer, infertility, and even death. Arming yourself with knowledge about these diseases can help you protect yourself and your loved ones.
Prevent STDs Before They Start
STDs are infections, usually caused by bacteria or viruses, passed from person to person during sexual activity. That doesn’t just mean intercourse. Some STDs can be spread by any contact with the penis, vagina, rectum, or mouth.
They’re most common in people ages 15 to 24. But anyone—regardless of age, gender, or economic situation—can get an STD. Certain sexual behaviors increase your risk. To reduce your chances:
- Abstain from sexual activity. This is the most reliable way to prevent STDs.
- If you choose not to abstain, reduce your number of sex partners. Consider a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
- Talk openly with each new partner about his or her infection status.
- Open a new latex condom each time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Used consistently and correctly, they protect against both STDs and pregnancy.
Take Action to Preserve Your Sexual Health
Many STDs have no symptoms, especially in the early stages. For that reason, it’s important to be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity. Also, get tested for STDs regularly, especially before you have sex with a new partner.
When signs do appear, they include:
- Bumps, sores, or a rash in your genital area
- Abnormal discharge from your vagina or penis
- Pain, burning, or itching in your genitals or when urinating
Most STDs are treatable, and acting fast reduces your risk of long-term harm. So don’t delay if you have symptoms or concerns about your sexual health.
Know the Risks by Name
There are more than 25 types of STDs, but these seven are among the most common to affect Americans, the CDC notes.
- Human papillomavirus, the most common STD, may cause genital warts and cervical and oral cancer.
- Bacterial vaginosis may cause vaginal pain, itching, odor, and discharge, along with a greater risk for other STDs.
- Chlamydia can prevent women from becoming pregnant.
- Gonorrhea affects more than 800,000 people yearly, potentially leading to chronic pelvic pain.
- Syphilis, when it progresses, can cause muscle weakness, nerve damage, and even death.
- Trichomoniasis is very common but highly treatable with antibiotics.
- HIV is spread through sex; if you have another STD, your odds of acquiring HIV are two to five times greater than those who do not have an STD.
If you would like to talk to Dr. Van Eeckhout about any women’s health issue, you may schedule a consultation at her office at Los Alamos Medical Center by calling 505.661.9201