The CDC recently reported that cases of three common sexually transmitted infections (STIs)-chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis- are on the rise for the first time in nearly 10 years and reaching record high rates in the U.S. This unfortunate statistic shows there are still a lack of men and women getting tested and protecting themselves from STIs.
In light of April being STI Awareness Month, Dr. Cherrell Triplett, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist who practices at Southside OBGYN and Franciscan Alliance in Indianapolis, shared with Brandi Walker about whether there will ever be a cure for STIs, her view on abstinence as a form of prevention, and her advice for people who are hesitant about getting tested.
Brandi Walker: Do you think there will ever be a cure for sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea?
Cherrell Triplett: Many sexually transmitted infections are curable, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can be easily treated with antibiotics. Others don’t have a cure, but there are several preventative and early detection measures that can help protect men and woman against larger health issues they can cause, such as cancer. For example, virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, the most common STI. Cervical cancer can therefore be prevented with routine screening that includes an HPV test in combination with a Pap test, a.k.a. Pap+HPV Together, for some women. The bottom line is that all men and women should be visiting their healthcare provider at least once a year to discuss what types of screening tests are appropriate for them.
B.W.: What treatment options are available for those who are diagnosed with a STD?
C.T.: Many STIs can be treated with antibiotics or antiviral medication. Treatment is tailored to the specific infection that is diagnosed. For example, patients who test positive for chlamydia and gonorrhea can be easily treated with one dose of antibiotics. In order for patients to get the appropriate treatment, they must understand the symptoms of STIs. Some STIs have symptoms that can be confusing or non-existent, and are therefore harder to diagnose and treat. For example, symptoms for trichomonas vaginalis, a common curable STI affecting men and women, are similar to those caused by yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis – both of which are not sexually transmitted infections. It is important to regularly discuss your sexual health and any abnormal symptoms you are experiencing with your healthcare provider so that they can identify the root cause and provide the appropriate treatment.
B.W.: What is your view on abstinence? Do you feel this is an effective way to prevent being diagnosed?
C.T.: Abstinence is the most effective way to protect yourself against STIs – if you are abstaining from all sexual contact. Condoms are also an effective way to prevent transmission of STIs. However, it is important to know that not all STIs are transmitted through intercourse; some can be transmitted through genital or skin-to-skin contact. If you are engaging in any kind of sexual activity, it is important to use protection.
B.W.: What signs or symptoms should a person look for before deciding to get tested?
C.T.: The presence of symptoms, or lack thereof, varies depending on the STI. The most common symptoms of many STIs are abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal itching and irritation or unusual vaginal odor. However, many STIs may have no clinical symptoms. For example, in the case of chlamydia – the most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S. –75% of women and 50% of men do not experience symptoms. If you are sexually active, make sure to get tested for STIs regularly, even if everything appears normal.
B.W.: What advice do you have for someone who is nervous or hesitant about getting tested?
C.T.: I remind my patients that our discussion is confidential and is an opportunity to ask and learn. Healthcare providers want nothing more than for their patients to be healthy, but they can only do their job best when fully informed. I also remind my patients that STIs are very common and don’t equate to promiscuity or infidelity. HPV, for example, is so common that the CDC claims “nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.” While HPV usually resolves on its own, certain high-risk HPV strains can develop into cancer over time. As such, screening for some women has evolved to include regular HPV testing in combination with the Pap test. An open, honest dialogue with your healthcare provider can help you better understand these important screenings and feel more in control of your health!
B.W.: What further information is available about STDs awareness?
C.T.: Men and women can learn more about STIs and the importance of screening by visiting http://knowtogether.com. Women can also learn more about cervical health and the importance of cervical cancer screening by visiting www.PapPlusHPV.com.