Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Unfortunately, they are prevalent in South Carolina, especially among teens and young adults. Common STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS.
“The most common STDs I see in young people are chlamydia and gonorrhea,” says Dr. Jarvis J. Johnson, M.D. with Lexington Medical Center’s Spring Valley Family Practice says. “Early in the infectious process, people often have no symptoms, so they aren’t aware they have an STD.”
According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), of the state’s 34,118 chlamydia cases, 84 percent were in adolescents or people under the age of thirty. Of the state’s 16,705 gonorrhea cases, 79 percent were among those between the ages of 15-29.
As STDs progress, men commonly experience burning with urination, blood in their urine, abdominal pain, testicular pain, or even penile discharge. Women may experience abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, burning with urination, or even blood in the urine.
The effects of untreated STDs can be severe and vary depending on the STD. Without treatment, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility in men and women. Untreated syphilis can lead to severe organ damage that causes paralysis, blindness, numbness, behavioral change - and even dementia. If HIV is untreated, it can lead to an immunocompromised state that makes people susceptible to other infections that could potentially cause death.
"An open and honest line of communication is key to appropriate sexual health education," Dr. Johnson says. "Parents and teens need to educate themselves and stay up-to-date about sexual health, especially the newer medications to prevent HIV infection."
Many tools are available to prevent STDs. Popular options are abstinence, which provides 100 percent protection, and consistent condom use. Other options are Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). PrEP is a medicine used to prevent HIV and comes in either a pill or shot form. Usually, a person takes this medicine daily and has a 99 percent chance of preventing HIV from sex. PEP is a pill taken after potential HIV exposure to prevent developing HIV. Individuals should seek treatment as soon as possible or within 72 hours after exposure to HIV.
For your health and safety, it is vital to know your partner's STD status and stay current on your personal STD screening status. Discuss any questions or concerns about your sexual health with your primary care doctor.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...
Lexington Medical Center is a hospital system serving Columbia, Lexington, and the rest of the South Carolina Midlands area. For the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report has named Lexington Medical Center as the best hospital in the Columbia Metro area.