Yakima County has many health concerns – high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Another concern: sexually transmitted diseases. Most people with STDs don’t have obvious symptoms, but without treatment, they can spread disease and possibly develop serious complications. Many STDs are curable. Others are treatable. All are preventable.
Dr. Martin Backer of Memorial Cornerstone Medicine talked about STDs, prevention and treatment July 15, 2014 on KIT 1280.
Are there STDs that are of significant concern in our region?
In Yakima County, the rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis exceed the state average. Yakima County also has a high rate for genital herpes, though it was below the state average last year. The concern is that a high rate of one STD generally means a higher risk for other STDs.
Is it true that some STDs have no symptoms?
Yes. That’s why it’s important for people who are sexually active to get tested regularly, especially if they’re not in monogamous relationships. And it’s particularly important for people who engage in high-risk, unprotected sex.
Chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later. It can be cured with treatment, but it has no symptoms, and because it has a longer infectious period than some other sexually transmitted diseases, it can be spread to sexual partners weeks or months after initial infection.
Gonorrhea also is frequently asymptomatic in women, which makes it easy for them to unknowingly spread it to their partners, but most men experience symptoms like painful urination and discharge. Gonorrhea is another sexually transmitted disease that can be cured with treatment. It also has a shorter infectious period than chlamydia.
You also mentioned syphilis and genital herpes as sexually transmitted diseases of concern in our area. What should we know about them?
Genital herpes is an STD caused by two types of viruses, and fluids found in herpes sores carry the virus. There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten herpes outbreaks or make it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your partner.
Syphilis is an STD that can cause long-term complications if not treated correctly. You get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during sexual activity. It can be cured with appropriate antibiotics from your health care provider.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, but there is a vaccine for it. Can you speak more about that?
Human papillomavirus is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. There are many different types. Some cause health problems, including genital warts and cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines are safe and effective. They can protect males and females against diseases, including cancers caused by HPV, and the Centers for Disease Control recommends that all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 should get vaccinated.
Routine screening for cervical cancer for women also is recommended for ages 21 to 65.
How do people avoid sexually transmitted diseases?
The only way to avoid STDs is to not engage in sexual activity. If you are sexually active, you can avoid STDs by being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results. And if not, you also should use condoms every time you have sex.