5 Things You Should Know About STDs

Incidence of sexually transmitted diseases reaches all-time high

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Physician Michael Mendoza is Monroe County Health Department commissioner.
Physician Michael Mendoza is Monroe County Health Department commissioner.

New cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States reached an all-time high in 2016, according a recently released annual report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 1.6 million cases of chlamydia, 470,000 cases of gonorrhea and 28,000 of syphilis reported last year.

The diseases are on the rise in many groups, including women, infants and gay and bisexual men.

Local health agencies are aware that the issue continues despite consistent education and proactive medical testing.

“People must understand that you can have STDs without having symptom[s],” said physician Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Health Department commissioner.

Mendoza, physician Roxana Inscho, manager of HIV/STD program at Monroe County Health Department, and John Ricci, senior public health educator, share five tips on getting ahead of the STD/HIV issue.

1. Talking

It’s a simple step but often the first one ignored. Having a frank and candid discussion with your partner, partners and physicians about the issue can be uncomfortable. However, not as uncomfortable as actually having a sexually transmitted disease.

“You cannot be blind to the fact that you need to have an open and non-judgmental conversation,” said Mendoza. “We understand it is not an easy topic, but too often people hide the situation, which only makes it worse.”

Mendoza said many people continue to be shy about discussing the issue. But failing to bring up the topic simply because the conversation is not easy only deepens the problem.

“Not talking about it is one of the largest issues that leads to spreading the disease. And, of course, another factor is the lack of people getting tested,” he said.

2. Testing

Young women account for nearly half of all diagnosed chlamydia infections, but syphilis and gonorrhea are increasingly affecting new groups of people. Between 2015 and 2016, syphilis rates rose nearly 18 percent, according to the CDC. Most cases occurred among men, especially gays and bisexuals. Half of the men in those two groups also had HIV, according to the report.

“We are making it as easy as possible for people to get HIV testing,” said Inscho. “There is testing in emergency rooms and you can get tested at health events throughout the year. We continue to encourage people to know their status.”

The need for testing is real.

“Because you can be asymptomatic, there are people who continue to pass the disease onto others without knowing it,” said Mendoza. “People believe you can only get HIV if you behave in stereotypical behavior, but anyone can get it.”

3. Treatment

If left untreated, sexually-transmitted diseases can lead to serious health problems such as infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and increased risk of HIV infection.

Gonorrhea rates rose among both men and women in 2016, but the largest increase (22 percent) was among men, and many new gonorrhea cases were among gay and bisexual men.

“Whether the numbers are going up or down, we will remain diligent regarding our education about STDs and HIV,” said Ricci. “As much progress that we see being done, we also understand that it remains an issue that we must continually keep our focus on.”

Mendoza said it’s essential once you get tested to follow the instructions of your physician.

“What we have found is that some people decide to take their partner’s medication without consulting with a doctor. They just assume if it was prescribed to their partner it must be fine for them to take it as well and that is not necessarily true,” added Mendoza.

4. Health literacy

Medical professionals are encouraging people to increase their health literacy, which is the ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

“When it comes to STDs, HIV and healthcare overall, we must understand the situation thoroughly and how to prevent health issues in our lives when possible,” said Inscho. “We have patients who are passing back and forth their infections.”

Inscho suggests that once patients have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease that they refrain from sex for a minimum of a week.

5. Practice safe sex

According to the experts interviewed for this story, using some type of barriers work because they can block many viruses, bacteria and other infectious particles. Male latex condoms are the most common barrier used for safe sex. If your partner refuses to use a male condom, you can use a female condom, which fits inside the vagina.