They are easily detected, and most are treated without difficulty. But many people are reluctant to undergo testing for them.
Sexually transmitted diseases may cause feelings of shame, but the stigma is unjustified because they are actually common.
Just about any sexual behavior carries a risk of infection, but STDs fit into a particular category of being passed only through sexual contact.
“You do not get STDs from hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilet seats or touching doorknobs,” said Keri Ratliff, coordinating registered nurse for the Cherokee County Health Department. “Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you have an STD; therefore it is best to be tested. More than half of all Americans get an STD at some time in their lives.”
The best defense against STDs is abstinence, but that might be an unreasonable expectation among adults. The most effective countermeasures for the sexually active are a barrier, such as a male or female condom, and being tested twice a year or if symptoms arise.
The CCHD performs STD testing Monday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Our testing checks for chlamydia and gonorrhea by obtaining a urine sample - at least an hour after the previous urination - and a venipuncture blood draw for syphilis and HIV,” Ratliff said. “Condoms are free and available to anyone during daily business hours, and no appointment is necessary. Walk-ins are welcome.”
The most common STD is chlamydia. Men often detect it due to urethral discharges.
“In women, it is usually asymptomatic,” said Dr. Kathy Ritchie of the NeoHealth clinic in Hulbert. “It can result in an ascending infection, which can reach the fallopian tubes and cause infertility.”
Women ages 15-25 are at the highest risk for chlamydia, which is easily treated with antibiotics if caught in time. Gonorrhea and syphilis also respond well to treatment with early detection. HIV, the virus causing AIDS, has no cure, but can be managed with medication.
Infections of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common disease that can cause cervical cancer in women, can be prevented through immunization. The vaccine has been the subject of controversy, because some believe it encourages girls to become sexually active.
“The objections are based on moral concerns,” Ritchie said. “But there is no scientific basis for not being vaccinated. There are about 20,000 deaths due to cervical cancer in the U.S. each year that could be prevented with the vaccine. We certainly recommend it.”
The Gardasil vaccine prevents infection by HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. In females ages 9-26, Gardasil protects against two HPV strains that cause 75 percent of cervical cancers, and two strains that account for 90 percent of genital warts. The strains also account for 70 percent of vaginal cancers and half of vulvar cancers.
In males ages 9-26, Gardasil can also protect against HPVs that cause 90 percent of genital warts.
“Gardasil may not fully protect everyone, nor will it protect against diseases caused by other HPV types or against diseases not caused by HPV,” Ratliff said. “It does not prevent all types of cervical cancer, so it’s important for women to continue routine cervical cancer screenings. The vaccine also does not directly treat cancer or genital warts.”
Gardasil is given as three injections during a six-month span, and is available for qualified recipients at the CCHD.
Ratliff said people should not be afraid or embarrassed to be checked or treated for STDs.
“Be proud that you want to be healthy,” she said. “All services provided through Cherokee County Health Department are private and confidential.”
For information, call the CCHD at (918) 456-8826 between 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday.
To read the results of a Daily Press poll about STUD education for kids, visit tahlequahTDP.com.