Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April is National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month

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By Diane Forrest, RN

While I was in nursing school, I worked part time for the mobile nursing unit that was a part of the school, but funded by a grant.  The purpose of this unit was to travel to high schools in rural areas and provide education on different subject matters, take blood pressure readings, blood sugar tests, and simple urine tests.  The unit was a modified RV that was equiped with an exam room, waiting room, and a classroom.  While we did perform a few medical tests, our main function was educating the kids about sexual education, diseases, and pregnancy prevention.  I was terribly surprised at the large number of children who were sexually active.  When I was that age I never even thought about such things, now here I was teaching these young people.  I imagine in the rural areas of Mississippi there weren't many activities for the kids to entertain themselves with, so many started drinking and having sex at a young age.  It was not my job to be their moral conscious, but to provide them with the knowledge they needed to prevent unwanted disease and pregnancies.  I loved that job, and can only hope that my instructions help lead these kids to the right choices.

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Some kids and even adults are not as fortunate to receive this type of education.   According to the
  • CDC estimates more than 19 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States.
  • In 2009, there were more than 1.5 million total cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea reported to CDC- making them the two most commonly reported infectious diseases in the United States.
  • STDs have an economic impact: direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at $17.0 billion annually.

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CDC's current testing guidelines include:
  • Annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women under age 26, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners.
  • Yearly gonorrhea screening for at-risk sexually active women (e.g., women age 25 and younger, those with new or multiple sex partners, and women who live in communities with a high burden of disease).
  • Syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women at the first prenatal visit, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.
  • Screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV for all sexually active gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men.
  • HIV screening for everyone between the ages of 13 and 64. Those at high risk for HIV infection (e.g., injection drug users and their sex partners, persons who exchange sex for money or drugs, sex partners of HIV-infected persons, and heterosexuals or men who have sex with men who themselves or whose sex partners have had more than one sex partner since their most recent HIV test) should be screened for HIV at least annually.
  • Health care providers should take a sexual health history of their patients and follow up with appropriate counseling, vaccination, testing, and if needed, treatment for STDs. Increased prevention efforts, including screening and treatment, are critical to reducing the serious health consequences of STDs.

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STD infections often present without symptoms and, if left untreated, some infections may result in infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, an increased risk for HIV, and cancers of the throat, mouth, penis, and cervix.  April is National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month.  While I personally believe that abstinence is the best prevention against acquiring a STD, the second best preventative measure is wearing a condom and choosing your partners wisely.  Birth control measures may prevent pregnancies; however they will not prevent a STD.  If you are you know someone who is sexually active with multiple partners, please get tested this month, and make sure you notify your partners should you have positive reports.

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