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OBSTETRICS • GYNECOLOGY • FAMILY PRACTICE

Topic of the Month : STD Awareness

April is STD Awareness Month, an annual observance to raise awareness about the impact of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) on the health of Americans and the importance of individuals discussing sexual health with their healthcare providers and, if sexually active, their partners.

STDs are a major public health issue:

  • CDC estimates that there are approximately 19 million new cases of STD's each year in the United States, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.
  • STD's have an economic impact: direct medical costs associated with STD's in the United States are estimated at $15.9 billion annually.

Vaccines offer protection against two common sexually transmitted viral infections: hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV). CDC recommends their use for people at risk.

  • While serious health threats from STD's cross racial and ethnic lines, disparities persist at too high a level.
  • Higher rates of the most commonly reported STD's persist among African-Americans and Hispanics when compared to whites.
  • Most STD's have been associated with increased risk of HIV transmission.

Many STD's do not have any symptoms, so many of those who are infected don't know it. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

The Importance of Testing

To reduce the impact of STD's, it is important to increase knowledge about sexually transmitted infections and make STD testing a part of routine medical care. Because many STD's have no symptoms, those at risk need to get tested and find out if they are infected.

Chlamydia is one of the most common STD's, especially among young women. CDC recommends that all sexually active women younger than age 26 get tested for Chlamydia once a year. Women who are older than 26-years-old should be tested if they have a new or multiple sex partners.

Getting tested and treated for Chlamydia can reduce new cases of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) by over 50 percent, according to a study in a managed care setting. Women with PID can experience pregnancy complications, infertility, chronic pain, and irreversible damage to their reproductive organs. Reducing the impact of PID among women also requires men to be tested and treated for Chlamydia to reduce new cases. Recent studies have shown that many young women who have been diagnosed with Chlamydia may become re-infected by male partners who have not been diagnosed or treated.

CDC's Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines recommends that sex partners of infected patients be treated to prevent re-infection of the patient and transmission of the infection to others and those with Chlamydia be re-tested for the infection approximately three months after treatment. CDC also recommends that sexually active men who have sex with men (MSM) be tested for chlamydia, as well as syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV at least annually.  

Health care providers should take a sexual health history of their patients and follow up with appropriate counseling, vaccination, testing, and if needed, treatment for STD's. Increased prevention efforts, including screening, are critical to reducing the serious health consequences of STD's.

What You Can Do

  • Talk with your doctor or health care provider about STDs and ask about recommended vaccinations and testing.
  • Get tested. Visit www.findSTDtest.org to find other STD testing locations near you.
  • Talk openly and honestly with your partner about STD's.

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