Add STD testing to your back-to-school list
By Katie Minor
When you hear those words, you probably think of COVID-19. We’ve spent over a year keeping track of our COVID tests and vaccines, but you might be forgetting to take care of your sexual health along the way.
Even in a pandemic, STD cases in West Virginia have been rising. From 2018 to 2020, reported cases of chlamydia have risen from 3,599 to 5,290 cases. Cases of gonorrhea have gone from 1,143 to 1,727, and cases of syphilis have gone from 185 to 290.
And here at Monongalia County Health Department’s Clinical Services, we’ve seen an uptick in STDs since school started back.
STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases, pose a threat for everyone. They are spread through sexual activity and are easy to contract. Since many STDs don’t always cause noticeable symptoms, a lot of people end up having an infection without even knowing it.
Even though many symptoms of STDs are unnoticeable for years, the long-term effects can be very dangerous. For instance, untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to long-term pelvic pain, infertility and potentially deadly ectopic pregnancy.
The thing is, if caught early, those STDs, along with syphilis, can be easily cured with an antibiotic.
And that’s one of the best reasons to get tested.
Plus, when left untreated, these STDs can also increase your risk for HIV. As you probably know, HIV, as well as herpes, can only be managed, not cured, and if left untreated, HIV can turn into life-threatening AIDS.
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common STD in the United States. Often, HPV goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t, it can lead to serious health problems like genital warts and cancer. The HPV vaccine, available at MCHD Clinical Services, is recommended for girls and boys ages 11 to 12, but is also effective for ages nine to 26.
While STDs affect people of all ages, young people ages 15-24 are especially susceptible. Of the 26 million new STDs that occurred in 2018, CDC estimated that young people accounted for almost half of those cases. That’s almost 13 million new cases just among teens and young adults!
School being back in session after a year of mostly online education sets up a scenario that already seems to be leading to an increase in STDs among college students here in Monongalia County.
There are a few reasons young people are more at risk for STDs. They might have more than one sex partner, or just be more sexually active in general. Young people are also less likely to have insurance or transportation, limiting access to testing. Some may find it uncomfortable to talk openly and honestly about STDs, not just with doctors and nurses, but even with each other.
Also keep in mind that using alcohol or other substances can lower your inhibitions and impair your judgment. For instance, you might end up not using a condom, or using one incorrectly.
Do not be afraid to talk openly about your sexual health with your doctor. They are not there to judge you — they want what’s best for your sexual health. Remember to answer questions honestly and speak up if you have any concerns about your own health.
It’s important to remember that STDs are entirely preventable. The most sure-fire way to prevent infections is abstinence. Reducing your number of sex partners or practicing mutual monogamy also greatly decreases your risk for infections.
Not your style? That’s okay, you can still watch out for your sexual health. Remember to use condoms and inquire with your sexual partners about their status. You can also get vaccinated for Hepatitis B and HPV with our clinical services.
Above all, get tested to keep track of your sexual health. Just like for COVID, getting tested for STDs is the responsible thing to do to take care of yourself and others. Everyone should be tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV. If you have multiple partners or if you are a man who has sex with men, you might be at higher risk and could benefit from getting tested at least once a year, if not more frequently.
MCHD Clinical Services offers free STD testing and treatment, as well as a variety of vaccines, including the one for HPV. Our friendly, non-judgmental nurses want to ensure the safety of their patients to keep them healthy and to keep STDs from spreading.
You’ve survived this far into a pandemic — don’t let STDs get the best of you now!