Background on STIs


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that you can get from having sex with someone who has the infection. The causes of STIs are bacteria, parasites and viruses. There are more than 20 types of STIs, including Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes Simplex, HIV/AIDS, Human Papillomaviruses (HPV), Syphilis, and Trichomoniasis.

In the United States, overall incidence of STIs has increased dramatically in recent years. The CDC estimates that 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.

STIs disproportionately affect women, infants of infected mothers, adolescents and young adults, and communities of color. Although 15-24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half of all new STIs each year.

Despite the fact that STIs are extremely widespread and add an estimated $13 billion dollars to the nation's health care costs each year, most people in the United States remain unaware of the risk and consequences of all but the most prominent STI—HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Many of these STIs initially cause no symptoms, especially in women. Symptoms, when they do develop, may be confused with those of other diseases that are not transmitted through sexual contact. STIs can still be transmitted person to person even if they do not show symptoms. Also, health problems caused by STIs tend to be more severe for women than for men.

STIs can result in irreparable lifetime damage, including blindness, bone deformities, mental retardation, and death for infants infected by their mothers during gestation or birth.

In women, STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies, and cancer of the reproductive tract.

Teens and STIs

Some contributing factors in the rise of STIs, particularly among young people, are that teenagers are increasingly likely to have more sex partners at earlier ages, and sexually active teenagers often are reluctant to obtain STI services, or they may face serious obstacles when trying to obtain them. In addition, health care providers often are uncomfortable discussing sexuality and risk reduction with their patients, thus missing opportunities to counsel and screen young people for STIs.

Treatment & Prevention

Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not completely eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading STIs.

If you have an STI caused by bacteria or parasites, your health care provider can treat it with antibiotics or other medicines. If you have an STI caused by a virus, there is no cure. Sometimes medicines can keep the disease under control.

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