Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
Let's Talk About Sexually Transmitted Infections
It’s time to discuss a topic many are uncomfortable with. It’s time to talk about sex, or more accurately, let’s talk about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s not something one may think about often, but with STI numbers increasing, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms and how to keep yourself safe.
What exactly is an STI? A sexually transmitted infection is any disease that usually or often is transmitted from person-to-person by direct sexual contact.
Many STIs can be treated with antibiotics and antivirals, but this was not always the case. Until World War II, treatments available to “cure” STI’s often were worse than the disease. Some would even be considered brutal by today’s standards.
Treatments ranged from using lead weights on their nether regions to help in their recovery, slapping infected genitals with hard objects to get the pus out, cauterizing sores with hot irons, using leeches to remove the pestilence, and the use of heavy metals such as lead, silver, and mercury to drive out the disease. Thank goodness we have much easier and more effective ways of treating STIs these days.
With advances in testing and the use of antibiotics, STI’s should be a thing of the past. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STIs have significantly increased in the past twenty years among U.S. adults age 65 years and older. From 2000 to 2019, the rates of primary and secondary syphilis have increased by more than 1,000 percent, the rates for chlamydia have increased by almost 700 percent, and the rates for gonorrhea have increased by more than 400 percent!
So, what can you do to make sure you are protecting yourself and your partner(s) from contracting an STI?
First, talk to your physician. This can be an awkward conversation, but it is important to inform your provider of your sexual history. Let them know how many sexual partners you have had, how often you have had unprotected sex, and if you have other risk factors, such as if you are gay or bisexual.
Second, get tested for STI’s. The majority of STI’s may have no symptoms, which means someone could have the disease without knowing. It is estimated that out of the eight most common STI’s, four are curable. If you have never been tested, now is the time to do so.
Third, take precautions. Use condoms, dental dams and other barriers to reduce STIs. If you are under the age of 46, get vaccinated for HPV. Make sure to wash your genitals before and after sexual acts. Get educated about how STI’s are transmitted.
Finally, if you do have an STI, seek treatment from your provider. It also is important to tell your partner(s), so they get tested also. This can be an uncomfortable discussion, but it is vital that they get proper treatment for any STIs, as they can pass it back to you and others if untreated.
Truman VA has a robust program that provides information, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of STIs. Talk to your provider today about getting tested.
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