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Sex and Politics

April is STD Awareness Month

April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month, and as a veteran of public health, I’ve seen STD Awareness Months come and go. But this April there is an extra urgency among public health officials and practitioners to prevent and decrease STDs. I think folks are right to feel that way for a couple of reasons.

First, STDs like gonorrhea are getting harder to treat. Normally when someone gets gonorrhea, they can go to a health care provider and get tested and treated with antibiotics. Getting treated is important because untreated gonorrhea can cause infertility in women and men, which increases our health care costs. However, we are finding that gonorrhea doesn’t respond as well to available antibiotics as it used to. Gonorrhea’s increasing antibiotic resistance does not come as much of a surprise; the bacterium has always been good at adapting to new medications. But in the past we always had a new kind of antibiotic in the pipeline. That is no longer true. So now we need to work especially hard to prevent and test for STDs like gonorrhea from happening in the first place so we can catch resistant strains quickly and they are not spread through the population.

The rise of drug resistant gonorrhea also relates to the second reason why I think there is special cause for concern this April. STD prevention goes a long way toward HIV prevention.  Mounting evidence suggests a link between untreated gonorrhea and Chlamydia and the likelihood that someone will contract HIV.  Having either gonorrhea or Chlamydia can increase the chance that someone will either contract HIV or spread it to a sexual partner. Individuals who are infected with STDs may be two to five times more likely than uninfected individuals to acquire HIV infection.

As troubling as drug resistant gonorrhea and the possibility of new HIV cases can be, I think it is important to know that we each have the power to prevent STDs and HIV by reducing our risk behaviors, such as by using condoms and reducing our number of partners. We can also make sure we know our STD and HIV status. Your local health department can help connect you to testing and treatment, and they may be able to help you with the cost. Remember, STDs and HIV are not uniformly represented in the population. In [your state specific information here] are at increased risk of contracting both STDs and HIV. Regardless of whether you fall into this group, get tested!

And finally, we can all talk to our friends, our loved ones, our partners, and our children about the importance of maintaining good sexual health. STD and HIV prevention is the responsibility of each of us. But let’s make sure everyone has the information and resources to stay healthy. Share what you know with others. I hope we as a community can make this April the first of many months of work towards staying STD and HIV free.

William A Smith is the Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD).  More information and resources for STD Awareness Month can be found at the NCSD website.


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