By: Riley Fortier, M.Ed.
Each year, there are an estimated 374 million new cases of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the United States. There are more than 30 different bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are known to be transmitted through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, and oral sex). Some STIs can be transmitted through pregnancy, vaginal birth, or breast feeding.
Eight pathogens are linked to the greatest incidence of STIs. Four are completely curable: syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. The other four are not curable: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, and human papilloma virus (HPV).
STIs can have consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself, like: an increased risk for HIV, cervical and other cancers, pelvic inflammatory disease, and even death.
When used correctly and consistently, condoms are the best and most effective way to reduce your risk of STIs, including HIV. There are safe and highly effective vaccines for hepatitis B and HPV. Research for vaccines for herpes and HIV are advanced, with clinical trials running. Other interventions include voluntary male circumcision, microbicides, and partner treatment.
STIs are often asymptomatic, and when symptoms occur, they can be non-specific. Lab tests rely on blood, urine, or anatomical samples. Accurate diagnostic tests for STIs are used in high-income countries, but are less used and available in lower-income countries. However, there are inexpensive and rapid tests available for syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV, with more rapid tests being formulated.
Treatment for the three bacterial STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) and one parasitic STI (trichomoniasis) are generally curable with existing single-dose regimens of antibiotics. For herpes and HIV, the most effective treatment are antivirals, but they cannot cure the disease. For hepatitis B, antivirals can help fight the virus and slow the damage to the liver.
Why is this important?
It’s important for people to be informed so that they can practice safer sex practices and be able to get tested. It’s also important to be tested regularly and share your results with any new sexual partners to reduce the risk of transmitting STIs.
For more information, check out our sexual health resources.