A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on a “steep and sustained rise.” The report found that over the past four years, cases of gonorrhea have increased 67% and syphilis has increased 76%. Chlamydia remains the most commonly reported STD, with 1.7 million infections occurring annually.
“People often don’t realize they have an STD because they have no symptoms, and become unknowing spreaders of the disease,” said Sugat Patel, MD, from Samaritan Infectious Disease. “Awareness of disease hasn’t kept up with the increase in sexual activity.”
Dr. Patel reports that condom use, which is a reliable way to prevent STDs, is not as high as it should be and that misconceptions abound.
“I have many patients who say they use condoms and practice safe sex, but they aren’t using condoms with oral sex,” said Dr. Patel. “STDs can be transmitted to the genitals but also the anus and mouth.”
For older adults who aren’t worried about birth control or who may be unfamiliar with the risk of STDs after many years in a prior monogamous relationship, using condoms is still important when engaging in sexual activity with new partners. An AARP survey of sexually active adults over age 50 found that only one in five is using protection, even as STDs continue to rise across all age groups.
In addition to condoms, for individuals with a high risk of exposure to HIV, a pre-exposure prophylaxis pill, known as PrEP, may be an option to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Dr. Patel recommends the following screening and prevention guidelines to help prevent the spread of STDs:
- Get tested at least annually if you are sexually active. Consider getting tested every three months if you have multiple partners, don’t use condoms or if you are a man who has sex with other men. Testing may include a blood test and swab samples around your genitals, anus and mouth.
- Get tested at the start of a new relationship.
- Use latex condoms for vaginal, anal and oral sex.
- If diagnosed with an STD, contact your partners from the previous 60 days so they can be screened.
- Get screened for hepatitis C, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis if you are
sexually active. Testing is easy (blood draw, swab and urine test), inexpensive and covered by insurance.
- Vaccinations to protect you against hepatitis B and hepatitis A are available and covered by insurance.
- Consider PrEP if you are at risk for HIV. Most insurance plans, including Oregon Health Plan, cover care.