There must be something about the warm weather and sunshine of the summer that causes some young (and some old) minds to become reckless. I say this in awe, as I seem to have been treating many more sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) within the past couple of months than I have all year long! And unfortunately, those that I have been treating for it are my young teenagers and 20-somethings. This inspired and prompted me to do a review of the most common STDs and myths about them. I hope that if you’re a parent with a child in this age group that you remind them of a couple of things.
The first issue is a scary one. As a doctor I hear this statement, “But I feel fine and don’t have any problems” as a frequent answer to whether a person wants to be tested for STDs. Let me say that this is an uninformed statement to make, especially for my men out there. STDs often are transmitted and can linger around and inside the body for years before they’re detected with testing. Even though you personally don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean that you can’t pass it to the next person. Don’t ever let the fact that you don’t “feel bad” be your rationale for declining testing.
Statistically, all women between ages 15-25years should have testing for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia every time they have their annual pap smears and physical exams, regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms. Both are bacterial infections of the sexual organs. Typically, women will complain of a different kind of discharge (mucus) than they would normally have. Sometimes, this mucus is of a different color or character (yellow or green, thick) and may cause irritation, itching, or burning with urination or with intercourse. Both men and women can experience these symptoms, but what I’ve noticed is that men may not suffer ANY of these classic symptoms and still have the infection.
But, guess what? These misconceptions don’t only occur in the young population. I had one older male patient, who doesn’t use condoms with his 2 female partners, recently tell me that he was “fine” because he urinated and wiped himself clean after intercourse. Oh no! He’s putting both himself and his 2 partners at risk for all sorts of infections. Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Trichomonas, HPV, and Herpes are transmitted the very same way that HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, and Hepatitis are transmitted. If you’ve never heard of Trichomonas, or “Trich”, it is also an STD. It is characterized as a frothy, greenish discharge that causes irritation in the abdominal and pelvic area that needs antibiotic treatment.
Are all STDs fatal? No, but women in particular can have damage of their female organs to the point they have to have surgery or can’t have children, which can be devastating. Sometimes these diseases, such as Herpes, can cause meningitis. Hepatitis causes liver damage and can lead to death. Syphilis, which still exists, can cause neurological problems. HPV, clearly, is concerning because of its link to cervical cancer. HIV/AIDS goes without saying.
What’s the best way to never come into contact with these infections? Never have sex. But because this isn’t realistic in the real world, don’t have sex until you’re ready and for goodness sakes, use a condom. Plain and simple. Ladies, protect yourselves because not everyone is looking out for you and your safety. Men, be smart and protect yourselves as well. If you have any questions, go to the doctor to be tested, and please have regular HIV testing. Don’t be afraid to talk about those things that can potentially save your life.
Be safe and be blessed,
C.Nicole Swiner, MD is currently a Family Physician in Durham, NC, and has worked in a clinic owned by the University of North Carolina since 2007, after completing her residency training there. She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University.
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