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Get informed, protect yourself from STDs
Health advice
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Most Americans don’t concern themselves with facts about STDs, but were you aware that more than 65 million Americans have an STD that can’t be cured with medication? These diseases include herpes, Hepatitis B and HIV, and experts estimate that about 19 million Americans get an STD every year.
About 50 percent of newly diagnosed STD patients are teenagers or young adults, which means this age group is getting infected with STDs faster than any other group in America. One reason for this is that their reproductive systems have not finished developing and their membranes are thinner and more easily damaged, allowing easier access for infections.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 million people will be infected with a sexually transmitted disease this year, and half of those people will be ages 15-24. Direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at $13 billion annually.
There are actually hundreds of STDs but the most common are:
• Chlamydia. This is known as a “silent” disease because about three quarters of infected women and about half of infected men have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they usually appear within one to three weeks of exposure.
Symptoms in women include an abnormal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. If the infection spreads to the fallopian tubes, some women may still exhibit no symptoms while others will have lower abdominal pain, low back pain, nausea, fever and bleeding.
For men, discharge or a burning sensation when urinating are the more common symptoms.
• Gonorrhea: In 2006, about one million young people, ages 10-24 were reported to have chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis. CDC estimates that more than 700,000 persons in the U.S. get new gonorrheal infections each year.
When symptoms are present, they are often mild. For women, symptoms include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased discharge or bleeding.
Some men have symptoms that appear two to five days after infection, but symptoms can take as long as 30 days to appear and may include a burning sensation when urinating and a white, yellow or green discharge. Men with gonorrhea may also get painful or swollen testicles or they may not have symptoms at all.
• Hepatitis B: The hepatitis B virus takes about two months to show up in an infected person’s blood. Nine out of every 10 people will get rid of the virus after a few months but the 10th person will never get rid of the virus and will become a carrier of the disease. Symptoms of hepatitis B, which attacks the liver, include fatigue, vomiting or nausea, jaundice and dark urine.
• Herpes/HSV: Approximately one-fourth of all adults have genital herpes, although about 80 percent of them haven’t recognized the symptoms. Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had a genital HSV infection. Most infected people have no or only minimal signs or symptoms, but when they do occur, they usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. Painful ulcers appear when the blisters break and these may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Another outbreak typically appears weeks or months after the first, but it is usually less severe and shorter than the first outbreak.
• HIV: From 1997-2006, rates of AIDS cases among males ages 15-24 increased. In 2006, the majority of new diagnoses of HIV infection among young people occurred among males and those ages 20-24. People carrying the HIV virus can seem healthy and not exhibit any symptoms. Eventually the virus wears down the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to illness. When the immune system reaches a specified low point, the person is considered to have AIDS. Testing may be done on blood, saliva or urine.
• HPV: The most common STD in the United States is human papillomavirus, or HPV. At any given time, 20-40 million Americans have HPV — some varieties of which can cause genital warts or cervical cancer.
Other types of HPV can cause warts in the genital areas of men and women. Symptoms include bumps or warts that look whitish and like a cauliflower, although many people with HPV will have no visible symptoms.
Recently a new vaccine, Gardasil, was introduced. It protects against four HPV types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.
• Syphilis: Syphilis cases among young people ages 15-24 have increased in both males and females in recent years. Syphilis can manifest as sores, a rash, or have no symptoms at all. Syphilis is highly infectious, but easily curable in its early stages. Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years, yet remain at risk for serious long-term complications, including nerve, cardiovascular and organ damage, and even death if it is not treated.
• Trichomoniasis: Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD in young, sexually active women. An estimated 7.4 million new cases occur each year in women and men. Men may not have symptoms but when they do, they complain of an irritation, mild discharge or slight burning. Women may have green or yellow discharge with a strong odor. Symptoms usually appear within five to 28 days of exposure.
Some STD infections can occur even when a latex condom is used. While the effect of condoms in preventing all infections is unknown, condom use has been associated with lower rates of some STDs. Birth control pills and intrauterine devices can prevent pregnancy, but they do not protect against STDs.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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