Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Higher STD Rates May Be A Good Thing

The CDC just released its annual report discussing trends in sexually transmitted diseases in the US (summary here). The upshot: chlamydia and syphilis are on the rise. And gonorrhea is stable (yay?) but at still-high rates. The CDC doesn't track HPV or herpes in the same way, so we don't know if these too are increasing.

Why in the world might this be a good thing? The increased rates of STDs may mean higher rates of infection...but it may represent better screening of these diseases. The scariest part of the STD crisis is just how many people have an infection, and don't know about it. I've had patients of all ages tell me they're too frightened to get tested, because they "really don't want to know." But the consequences of an undiagnosed STD can be devastating. Not only might you unsuspectingly pass chlamydia to a partner, for example, but the infection can cause irreversible damage to your fallopian tubes - leading to tubal pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain or infertility.

Knowing you have an STD may suck, but not knowing is worse. If you're under 25 (or have a partner who is), you should be checked at least once a year for the big three (chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis), and every 6 months if your sex life is particularly bountiful. If you're over 25, get tested with each new encounter or relationship. Treatment for these infections is very straightforward, from one to several doses of antibiotics.

How often do you get tested for STDs?

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