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STDs are on the rise: What you should know

Key Points

  • More than 20 million new STD cases are reported in the U.S. each year, nearly half of which are in young people ages 15 to 24.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that enter the body lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • If you have any signs or symptoms of an STD or have been exposed to someone with an STD, you should talk with a health care provider about getting tested.

It’s time to set aside embarrassment and awkwardness and have the talk.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a common fact of life and becoming more widespread every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases are at an all-time high and climbing. More than 20 million new STD cases are reported in the U.S. each year, nearly half of which are in young people ages 15 to 24.

But the news isn’t all bad.

“Fortunately, most STDs are curable, and even those without a cure can be effectively managed with treatment,” said Kim Silverman, ARNP, Medical Director at Indigo Health. “That’s why routine STD testing is so important. Testing and diagnosis reduce the spread of infection and the risk of serious complications that can affect your sexual, reproductive and overall physical health.”

STDs are on the rise: What you should know

Key Points

  • More than 20 million new STD cases are reported in the U.S. each year, nearly half of which are in young people ages 15 to 24.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that enter the body lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • If you have any signs or symptoms of an STD or have been exposed to someone with an STD, you should talk with a health care provider about getting tested.

It’s time to set aside embarrassment and awkwardness and have the talk.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a common fact of life and becoming more widespread every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases are at an all-time high and climbing. More than 20 million new STD cases are reported in the U.S. each year, nearly half of which are in young people ages 15 to 24.

But the news isn’t all bad.

“Fortunately, most STDs are curable, and even those without a cure can be effectively managed with treatment,” said Kim Silverman, ARNP, Medical Director at Indigo Health. “That’s why routine STD testing is so important. Testing and diagnosis reduce the spread of infection and the risk of serious complications that can affect your sexual, reproductive and overall physical health.”

What is an STD?

STDs, also referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections passed from one person to another during vaginal, oral or anal sex or close sexual contact. They are spread through bodily fluids and can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.

Misconceptions about STDs abound. Here are a few facts you should be aware of, according to the CDC:

  • People of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life can get an STD.
  • According to the CDC, about one in five people in the U.S. have an STD.
  • You don’t need to have a lot of sex to get an STD. It only takes one encounter with an infected person to become sick.
  • Women often have more serious health problems from STDs than men.
  • Many cases of STDs go undiagnosed and untreated.
  • STDs can lead to reproductive health problems, pregnancy and birth complications, cancer and the spread of infection.

What is the difference between an STI and STD?

You may have noticed a shift in how sexually transmitted infections and diseases are referred to. Technically, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that enter the body lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) considers the term STI to be a more accurate way to refer to sexually transmitted viruses. It also addresses the stigma attached to the term STD — a stigma that often keeps people from being tested and treated.

Who is at risk for an STD?

In a nutshell, anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection. According to the CDC, additional factors can increase your risk, including:

  • Having unprotected sex.
  • Alcohol and drug use. People under the influence often have lower inhibitions and may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
  • Having multiple partners. The more people you have sex with, the greater the likelihood you’ll be exposed to an STD.
  • Age. Young people under the age of 25 are at greatest risk for getting an STD. There are a variety reasons why, including:
    • Young women’s bodies are biologically more susceptible to STDs.
    • Many young people don’t get the recommended STD tests.
    • Teens and young adults are less likely to talk openly with a health care provider about their sex lives.
    • Lack of insurance and transportation limits access to testing.
    • Some have multiple sex partners.

How do I know if I have an STD?

STDs can be sneaky. Even if you have one, you may feel fine.

“Most of the time, STDs can go undetected because there are no obvious signs of infection,” said Ms. Silverman. “You may not know you have an STD until it spreads or leads to serious side effects.”

When symptoms are present, signs that might indicate an STD, according to the CDC, include:

  • Sores or bumps on or around the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Unusual or odorous vaginal discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during sex
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes or feeling tired
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Rash over the trunk, hands or feet

If you have any signs or symptoms of an STD or have been exposed to someone with an STD, you should talk with a health care provider about getting tested. The same symptoms could also be a sign of something else, like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection, notes the CDC.

STD testing can include a:

  • Pelvic and physical exam to look for signs of infection, such as warts, rashes or discharge.
  • Blood draw.
  • Urine test.
  • Swab sample taken from an infected place on your body.

Pap tests, which check the cervix for abnormal cells, are not a screening for STDs. If you are older than 30, however, your provider may test for HPV in addition to doing your Pap test, notes the CDC.

Home tests for STDs might seem convenient, but their accuracy can vary a lot depending on the type of sample collected and the test method. Don’t leave your sexual health to chance. The best way to be sure you have an STI is to get tested and examined by a medical provider.

What are the most common STDs?

There are more than 20 known types of STDs. Most are curable and others are treatable.

According to the CDC, the most common STDs include:

  • Human papillomavirus. (Viral infection) HPV is the most common STD in the United States. HPV vaccines are recommended for everyone ages 9 to 26 to protect against new infections. There is no cure for an existing HPV infection, which may be symptom-free or may cause genital warts or cancer. Warts can be treated with prescription medication. Learn about HPV testing →
  • Chlamydia. (Bacterial infection) Chlamydia is very common and typically does not show symptoms. If left untreated, it can cause reproductive problems and make it difficult to get pregnant. Chlamydia is easily treatable and curable with antibiotics. Learn about chlamydia testing →
  • Genital herpes. (Viral infection) The herpes virus can cause raw blisters and painful sores or present no symptoms at all. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can reduce symptoms, shorten outbreaks and decrease the likelihood of transmission. Learn about herpes testing →
  • Gonorrhea. (Bacterial infection) This infection can cause painful urination and abnormal discharge and other symptoms. Some people experience no symptoms. While gonorrhea has developed resistance to many antibiotics, it can be cured with the right combination of medication. If untreated, it can increase the risk of other STDs and cause serious health problems in women and men. Learn about gonorrhea testing →
  • Hepatitis B. (Viral infection) Hepatitis B, a disease that can lead to liver inflammation and fibrosis, is a common sexually transmitted infection. There is no cure if you have hepatitis B, but immunization can help prevent it. Learn about hepatitis testing →
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). (Viral infection) HIV is the infection that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When you have an STD, your chances of getting HIV are higher. Treatments are available for HIV, but there is no cure. Early detection and education are important to help manage the disease. Learn about HIV testing →
  • Syphilis. (Bacterial infection) Syphilis may begin with a painless sore and progress to include fever, rash, swollen glands, sore throat and headaches. The infection can be cured with the right antibiotics and is easiest to treat in its earliest stages. Learn about syphilis testing →
  • Trichomoniasis. (Parasitic infection) This very common STD can be cured with anti-infection medications. Symptoms of the disease can vary, although most people aren’t aware they are infected. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other organs and may affect fertility in men and cause pregnancy complications. Learn about trichomoniasis testing →

Which STD test should I get?

Just like an annual wellness check with your primary provider, anyone who is sexually active should get an annual test for sexually transmitted diseases and infections. And if you have more than one partner, you should be tested more often. The type of STD testing you need may vary depending on your age and risk factors. The CDC offers these general STD testing recommendations for women and men:

  • All adults and adolescents from ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV.
  • All sexually active women younger than 25 years should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
  • Women 25 years and older with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners or a sex partner who has an STD should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
  • Everyone who is pregnant should be tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C starting early in pregnancy. Those at risk for infection should also be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea starting early in pregnancy. Repeat testing may be needed in some cases.
  • All sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men should be tested:
    • At least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Those who have multiple or anonymous partners should be tested more frequently (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
    • At least once a year for HIV and may benefit from more frequent HIV testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
    • At least once a year for hepatitis C, if living with HIV.
  • Anyone who engages in sexual behaviors that could place them at risk for infection or shares injection drug equipment should get tested for HIV at least once a year.
  • People who have had oral or anal sex should talk with their health care provider about throat and rectal testing options.

Is Monkey Pox an STD?

Classifying the monkeypox virus as a sexually transmitted disease or infection is a little tricky, notes the CDC. While sexual contact makes the spread of the virus more likely, monkeypox can be also be transmitted in other ways that are not sexual, including:

  • Any close, sustained skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus.
  • Animal-to-human transmission through bites or scratches, or through direct contact with an animal’s blood, bodily fluids or monkeypox lesions.
  • Contact with contaminated items such as bedding, clothing, towels and other shared items.

Anyone can potentially catch and transmit monkeypox, although current CDC data suggests gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up the vast majority of cases in the current outbreak.

Although not a sexually transmitted disease in the classic sense, just like STDs, testing and prevention are key to protecting yourself and preventing its spread. The CDC recommends:

  • Avoid close, skin-to-skin contact with anyone who may be infected with monkeypox.
  • Avoid contact with contaminated items.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Practice safe sex, including the use of condoms.
  • Avoid contact with infected animals.

There are no treatments specially for the monkeypox virus. Because of their genetic similarities, antiviral drugs used to treat smallpox may be used to treat monkeypox.

How can I prevent STDs?

Aside from abstaining from sex entirely, there are ways to protect yourself and your sexual partners, according to the CDC:

  • Always avoid sex with someone who has genital sores, a rash, discharge or other symptoms.
  • Use latex condoms each time you have sex.
  • Avoid sharing towels or underclothing.
  • Wash before and after intercourse.
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis B and HPV.
  • Reduce your number of sex partners.
  • Get regular STD tests.

Where can you get tested?

Don’t wait until you need medical attention for an STD to act. Many urgent care and walk-in clinics offer simple and confidential screenings and on-site lab services to test for a variety of sexually transmitted infections, so you can feel confident about your health and your partner’s well-being.

“It may feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your health care provider about your sexual history and STD testing,” said Ms. Silverman. “It’s the most important thing you can do to protect your health, protect your partners and ensure you have a safe and satisfying sex life.”

If you need an STD test, Solv can help. Find a provider and quickly book an STD testing appointment near you.

Sources

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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