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STDs are spreading rapidly




Each year, approximately 15.3 million Americans contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). STDs are infections that are spread during sexual activity, usually occurring when an infection comes in contact with a break in the skin on the genitals. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are among the most commonly reported STDs.

There are an estimated 2.8 million new cases of chlamydia and 700,000 cases of gonorrhea annually in the US. Both are spread through sexual contact with an infected person. Within two days to three weeks of exposure to the infection, you may experience a yellow vaginal discharge; painful or frequent urination; vaginal burning or itching; redness, swelling, or soreness on the outside of the vagina (vulva); pain in the pelvis or abdomen during sex; abnormal vaginal bleeding; and rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain. Many women, and men, will experience no symptoms at all.

If left untreated, gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and other parts of the pelvis. PID may cause chills, fever, pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy.

Syphilis is a rarer disease, but it can be even more devastating as it can affect the heart, blood vessels, and nervous system. If you have been exposed to syphilis, a painless sore will appear, lasting from 10 days to six weeks. The lymph nodes in your groin may also swell. Weeks to months after the sore has gone away, a rash may appear on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands. Syphilis is highly contagious at this stage. Even after the rash goes away, the disease is still in your body and can cause damage for years. Untreated syphilis can lead to brain damage, blindness, paralysis, and death.

All sexually active women age 25 and younger should be regularly screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea because these diseases are common in young women. Women over 26 should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually if they have multiple sexual partners or if their partner has multiple sexual contacts. Syphilis screening may be appropriate for women with a history of multiple sex partners or sex with a partner whose health history is unknown.

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis can all be treated with antibiotics. To make sure that you don’t get reinfected, it is important that both you and your partner are treated and that you take all of your medicine before resuming sexual activity.

To help to reduce your risk of contracting an STD, always avoid contact with any sores on the genitals. Practice abstinence or monogamy, or limit your number of sexual partners. Ask your partner about his or her sexual history. Proper use of condoms every time you have sex can also help reduce transmission of STDs.

For more information, the ACOG Patient Education Pamphlet “Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Syphilis” is available at www.acog.org/publications/ patienteducation. …@

Dr. Kenneth L. Noller is president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.


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