Here are some scary statistics; can you guess the subject? There are about 333 million new cases worldwide each year. In the United States, roughly one in five people have one. Approximately 30% to 50% of us will have one of these in their lifetime. One in two sexually active teens contracts one by age 25, and each year, one in four teenagers will get one. At least 15% of all women who are infertile can attribute it to this. More than eight billion dollars is spent annually diagnosing and treating this problem.I imagine that it's obvious that I am discussing Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). Sexually transmitted disease (STD) is a term used to describe more than 20 different infections that are transmitted through the exchange of semen, blood, and other body fluids; or by direct contact with the affected body areas. STD's are also referred to as venereal diseases. It is important to remember that some STD's have no symptoms, or that symptoms can show up months or even years later. Common symptoms include bumps or blisters near the genitals, burning or pain during urination, unusual discharges or odors, flu-like symptoms (including fever, chills, or aches), and swelling in the groin (swollen lymph nodes). STD's are preventable. They are contracted by engaging in vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can get an STD by simply engaging in "heavy petting", where you touch or rub body parts. Condoms drastically reduce the risk of acquiring an STD…when used consistently and correctly. Can STD's be cured? Sexually transmitted diseases can be caused by any of the four major classes of infectious organisms: fungi, parasites, bacteria, or viruses. Fungal and parasitic infections can be effectively treated in most cases. Bacterial STD's include gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, and antibiotics will cure them if the infection is caught in time. However, it is the last class of infection, viral STD's, that has no cure, although symptoms can be reduced with antiviral medication. These include HIV, HPV (genital warts), herpes, and hepatitis B. Having one of these permanent viral infections will change your life forever. Hepatitis B can be quite difficult to treat, and can result in liver cancer and death. HIV can lead to AIDS, of course, and is a worldwide disaster. While current treatment, if available and affordable, can halt the progression of AIDS for some unknown period of time, it is nonetheless considered a permanent and ultimately fatal disease. In general, if a person contracts one STD, the probability of getting another is increased. This is primarily because the original STD is often an indicator of risky sexual behaviors, which increase the risk of other infections. In addition, some STD's cause damage to genital skin and mucous membranes, creating a portal of entry for other infectious organisms. In general, having an STD increases the likelihood of having HIV by two to five-fold. Male and female anatomy differs, and consequently STD's affect women differently then they affect men. A woman with an STD typically suffers more damage because her sexual organs are more complex and lie deeper inside the body. In addition, women can pass on the infection to an unborn child. On the other hand, men have a higher incidence of many STD's because male-to-male sex results in a variety of STD transmission possibilities that do not exist in female-to-female encounters. The number of new cases of STD's, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, continues to rise in spite of efforts to educate the public. Chlamydia is now the most common venereal disease in the United States. A huge question in this dangerous 21st century is just who should be having sex, and when? As the father of three girls, this issue is constantly on my mind. Sexual health is an ongoing responsibility and not a casual thought. The decision to become sexually active is a very personal decision, and made for a variety of reasons. It is one that requires maturity and responsibility. It involves trust in your partner, education about protection, and knowledge of all the potential issues that may arise. These issues include STD's, which may be temporary, permanent or even fatal, infertility, and pregnancy, as well as potential emotional trauma. I wish my readers good health and plenty of wisdom. If you are young, single, or a parent, you'll need it! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: August 28, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 19