Don’t Get Caught Off-Guard
Although many people first start learning at early ages about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and preventing them, there may still be a lot to learn. For example, while prevention and screening efforts focus on five or six common STDs, did you know there are more than 25 total sexually transmitted diseases and infections? And that more than half of Americans will get an STD in their lifetime? This fresh look at uncommon facts about STDs might surprise you—and help you better protect yourself in the future.
The United States leads in STDs.
The U.S. has the highest rate of STD infection among first-world, industrialized countries. Even though we spend more money on health care and prevention than any other country, there are 20 million new sexually transmitted infections every year in the U.S.—almost half of them among people ages 15 to 24. Sexually transmitted diseases are estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $16 billion every year.
Some STDs can affect female fertility.
Most women who get chlamydia and gonorrhea won’t have symptoms at all, and in some the symptoms are very mild. However, as the infection progresses, the female reproductive organs can become involved and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can in turn lead to infertility. In fact, women who have had PID are more likely to experience ectopic pregnancies, chronic pelvic pain, and fallopian tube damage than those who haven’t. PID is responsible for 30 to 40% of female infertility cases, based on estimates from the World Health Organization.
Hepatitis B is more contagious than HIV.
Hepatitis B, which can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer, is 100 times more infectious than human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. And estimates say up to 2.2 million Americans have chronic hepatitis B, which can be contracted through exposure to any bodily fluid. Even sharing a toothbrush with someone can be a source of hepatitis B infection, although it’s estimated about half of hepatitis B infections are sexually transmitted. One out of 20 people in the United States will get hepatitis B during their lives.
You might have an STD and not know it.
About one in six people ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes, which is not curable but is manageable with treatment. However, experts think up to 90% of people who have herpes don’t even know they have it. Sometimes the symptoms are mild, so people don’t seek treatment or realize they are infected, making them more likely to spread the disease. It’s important to be screened for STDs yearly if you aren’t in a long-term, monogamous relationship, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms.
Condoms aren’t foolproof.
Although they are better than nothing, even when condoms are used correctly they don’t always provide 100% protection from one of the most common STDs: genital herpes. Herpes virus can live on areas other than those covered by a condom, so any sexual contact puts you at risk. About one out of every six people ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes.
STDs can cause cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD, and it has serious consequences: it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. Alarmingly, HPV often doesn’t cause any symptoms at all, and more than 14 million men and women contract it every year. This year, almost 13,000 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and it will cause more than 4,000 deaths. HPV also causes about 8,000 cancers in U.S. men yearly—most commonly throat cancer but also anal and penile cancer. The HPV vaccine, introduced in 2006, is contributing to a 50% lower incidence of HPV infection in teens.
It’s not just young people who get STDs.
Although young people ages 15 to 24 account for a large percentage of new STD infections, older populations, including the elderly, are also at risk. In 2010, there were 19,000 elderly people diagnosed with chlamydia, up from 6,700 just ten years earlier. And, over the same years, new HIV diagnoses in people older than 50 doubled. At any age, sexual activity brings the risk of STDs, so always know your status and take steps to protect yourself.