To Your Health!
Let’s Talk STDs and STIs Before Valentine’s Day
by Ruby Laine
What is the difference between STDs and STIs?
STDs are sexually transmitted diseases and STIs are sexually transmitted infections. All STDs start out as infections but not all infections become diseases which signify a more serious issue. The American Sexual Health Association reports that public health officials are leaning away from using the word disease because people tend to imply that that equals a clear health problem, which isn’t always the case so infection is normally more accurate. STIs also include infections that are spread through bodily fluids that aren’t inherently sexual, like sharing needles could cause a contraction of HIV.
What is the impact and what are the most common STDs and STIs?
In 2019 there were approximately 2,554,908 cases of sexually transmitted disease/infection. With the top three contributors being chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Breaking these down further, chlamydia is a bacterial infection which is transmitted through bodily fluids present in reproductive organs. It is a really common infection that can be treated with simple antibiotics but if it goes untreated it could lead to serious health conditions. Gonorrhea is also a bacterial infection that can easily be treated but most people don’t experience symptoms and are therefore unaware. Syphilis is more obvious and also more serious, people infected will experience sores on one's genitals that can be spread. It is treatable early on but if symptoms continue to progress without treatment there is likelihood of brain damage, paralysis, or even blindness.
Who does this affect and what are risk factors?
STDs and STIs can impact all sexually active individuals, but that is if you or your partner have additional partners. The CDC suggests that over half of individuals who contract an STD are between the ages of 15-24. A common misconception about STDs/STIs is that they are only of concern if symptoms are being presented when in reality that is not the case. A lot of these individual diseases have fairly long incubation periods and they all vary. For instance chlamydia could show itself in 1-3 weeks, syphilis could be anywhere from 10-90 days, and gonorrhea could be weeks or show no symptoms at all. Some individuals have a higher risk for complications due to STDs/STIs mostly including women, gay/bisexual men, and mothers passing it to newborns. Additionally, 20,000 women become infertile because of an undiagnosed STD each year.
How should one protect themself?
It is important to have open communication with your partners to disclose information that could affect your health. It is also crucial to use protection or contraceptives like condoms, and a number of different forms of birth control. Even if you use another form of birth control it is still important to use condoms or dental dams to protect yourself from STDs/STIs. There are also many vaccines to protect yourself such as HPV or using PrEp if you are at risk for HIV. The best thing you can do is get tested at least once a year to be sure you are safe. These tests are offered at doctors offices, OBGYN’s, and other sites that could be found right near you. For instance, Planned Parenthood’s website allows you to input a zipcode to find a testing site close to you. The best gift to give your partner this Valentine’s Day is an STD test giving you the all clear.
Ruby Laine (she/her) is a current undergraduate student at The George Washington University pursuing a Bachelor's of Science in Public Health. She is passionate about improving health outcomes for underserved communities, families, and children. She wishes to assist in expanding access to healthcare and promote healthy lifesyle behaviors. She has previously worked with the NYC City Council in District 2 under Carlina Rivera while being an advocate for constituents and the community. As a member of the editorial team of Today’s Patient as a Senior Contributor, Ruby focuses on reaching out to wider audiences, to spread awareness for health concerns and improve health literacy.
February 2023 page 3