STDs: Raising awareness and taking action

Last Modified: 4/08/2021


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are approximately 20 million new sexually transmitted disease infections each year. With April being STD awareness month, we wanted to highlight this concerning health issue. We asked Laura Silver, NP, PPG – OB/GYN, to explain what sexually transmitted diseases are, why there’s been a rise in cases and the best strategies for prevention.

What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? 

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are preventable conditions often passed from one person to another during unprotected sexual contact. They can comprise many types of infections, including bacteria, viruses and parasites. The most common STDs people often hear about are gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV) and the herpes simplex virus.

How are STDs transmitted or contracted? 

It’s important people understand that STDs can be transmitted in many ways, not just through sexual intercourse. They can also be transmitted or contracted before that through unprotected oral sex, anal sex and even skin-to-skin contact. Additionally, depending on the specific STD, infections may also be transmitted by sharing needles, breastfeeding and through bodily fluids or secretions.

What are the symptoms of an STD? 

It depends. Specific symptoms can vary from one infection to another. While it is possible to contract an STD and be asymptomatic, many can cause noticeable symptoms for both men and women.

Common STD symptoms for men can include:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • sores, bumps or rashes on or around the penis, testicles, anus, buttocks, thighs and/or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis
  • painful or swollen testicles

Commune STD symptoms in women can include:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • sores, bumps or rashes on or around the vagina, anus, buttocks, thighs and/or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the vagina
  • itchiness in or around the vagina
How are STDs diagnosed and treated? 

Your provider may diagnose your condition based on symptoms alone or order tests to verify. The type of test depends on the specific infection. Many healthcare providers will often utilize pap smears or pap tests, collect cultures, and use urine and blood tests to diagnose most STDs.

Treatment for an STD can vary and is dependent on the type of infection. Some STDs are bacterial and can be treated with antibiotics to resolve completely. On the other hand, viral infections can’t be treated with antibiotics and will never completely go away. Diseases such as HPV or HIV are lifelong. There’s always a chance they will reoccur.

For this reason, patients need to stay on top of screenings and exams. Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations. An STD diagnosis can and will have a profound effect on your future relationships.

Can someone have an STD and not know it? 

Absolutely. One of the biggest issues within our culture is that we’re not as proactive in screening for STDs as we should be. People assume they will know if they have an STD, which is often not the case. In some cases, they could have carried that infection for years because they never got screened. Unfortunately, this is where we see long-term effects begin.

Is one gender more at risk for an STD infection than others? 

Anyone who is sexually active and not using protection is at risk of contracting an STD. Women, ages 15 to 24, comprise about half of all new STD cases, making them the higher risk population. Due to their anatomy, women are more likely to contract an infection and be affected by it.

For example, the CDC estimates that about 24,000 women become infertile annually because of an untreated STD. Many long-term effects can also include cervical cancer, ectopic pregnancies, pregnancy loss or impact the fetus.  

What precautions or preventative measures can someone take to avoid infection with an STD? 

The best form of prevention is abstinence and avoiding sexual contact. Outside of that, barrier methods, such as condoms, are usually effective at preventing STDs that spread through bodily fluids, but they can’t fully protect someone from other STDs that may transfer from skin-to-skin contact.

Anytime anyone enters a new relationship, we encourage having an open and honest conversation to discuss sexual history. We also recommend that both individuals get screened before they become sexually active to ensure a clean baseline at the start of their relationship. We also suggest staying proactive and continue annual screenings as well.

Additionally, because women are gaining more access to contraceptives now, there has been a downward trend in condom use. For this reason, women must understand that birth control (pills, shots, implants and devices) will lower the risk of unwanted pregnancies, but they do not protect against STDs.

Vaccination is another form of prevention. Take HPV, for example, it is the most common sexually transmitted disease, but the HPV vaccine is one way to avoid the disease and prevent the nine strains. Those nine strains can link to 90% of genital warts and approximately 70% of anal and cervical cancer diagnoses. So, the sooner both men and women can get vaccinated before they are sexually active, the closer they get to potentially avoiding those cancers.

Final thoughts

We have one body, and we can’t replace it, which is why it’s vital to be proactive and have those difficult conversations with your partner before becoming sexually active. Remember to be open and honest about your history, any fears you might have, and what steps you’re going to take toward preventing infection.

It’s also essential that parents and caregivers have a conversation with the teenagers and young adults in their lives. Odds are they have a lot of questions. If unsure of what to say, please know that we are always willing to answer your questions and educate, so everyone is well informed.

Finally, make sure you are up-to-date on all your annual screenings and vaccinations. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns you may have about your sexual health, including whether you should get tested for STDs. By utilizing these methods and strategies, you can lower your risk of contracting an STD and passing it to others.


If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment with Laura Silver, NP, PPG – OB/GYN, at Parkview DeKalb Hospital, please contact 1-877-PPG-Today.

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