One quarter, yes one in four American girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are infected with one of these – chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, trichomoniasis, and human papillomavirus (HPV). The commonest sexually transmitted diseases around today, all easily transmissible, and cases are on the rise.
The President of the Medical Institute has described it as an epidemic, attributable to the sexual mores of our time, and while he is correct on an American scale, on an international scale the situation could perhaps be better described as a potential pandemic. In 1999 – ten years ago – there were an estimated 116 million cases globally, and numbers have skyrocketed since then. These figures do not even include AIDS/HIV.
The control of sexually transmitted disease on a community wide or nationwide scale is one of the most difficult public health tasks facing society today. There are several factors which militate against success – the social taboo on discussing the subject, the fact that for some young men at least, getting an STD is a rite of passage, and the myth that they are all easily cured, and don’t do much damage anyway.
Cure rates for sexually transmitted diseases are normally good, but depend on early detection and treatment. Part of the problem is that some diseases have no symptoms at all, and therefore go un-noticed.
Common symptoms include unusual lumps or sores, soreness, itching, pain when urinating, and/or genital discharge and itching.
Many people think that practising safe sex – using a condom – will protect them, but in fact some STDs are transmitted by oral or anal sex too. A condom will lower the risk by 50%, and that’s about all. Real prevention is tremendously difficult. Obviously abstinence is one answer, but in reality, it’s not a choice that a lot of teens want to make.
There are vaccines available to protect against the genital human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. It is given in three doses over a six month period to girls between 11 and 12. It is also effective for 13 to 26 year olds who have not been vaccinated. This type of protection is not yet available to males.
Often you have no means of knowing if a potential partner is a potential transmitter. Lifestyle is important – disease rates are thought to be highest in populations who are drug abusers – on whatever part of the social scale – and people who abuse alcohol. That perhaps gives us a clue as to what sectors we should avoid when choosing a partner. It’s a delicate area, but finding out about a potential partner’s sexual history is a good idea.
Quite apart from the unpleasant symptoms that go along with an STD, the long term consequences include sterility and cancer, so the problem needs to be taken seriously.
Even if you just you think you might have an STD – visit your doctor – and tell any of your sexual partners, otherwise you are putting them at risk. Keeping it quiet just lets the disease spread. A pregnant woman may even transmit an STD to her unborn child!
Don’t take a chance, get treated!