Women At Greater Risk Than Men For Sexually-Transmitted Infections

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Yesterday (Feb 14) was a day of love for most people, celebrating that love by sending romantic cards, fragrant flowers and decadent chocolates to their significant others. But the day that so often ends up with lovers hitting the hay for a little after-hours, extra-curricular activity, may be more troublesome than what they had anticipated.

This comes thanks to a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released just ahead of Valentine´s Day that shows that sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise, with an estimated 20 million new cases diagnosed each year, costing taxpayers in the neighborhood of $16 billion.

Even more troubling is the fact that half of all STI diagnoses come from 15- to 24-year-olds–roughly 25 percent of the US population.

The new report shows figures for eight of the most widespread STIs, including HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes and HIV. Overall, the CDC estimates that more than 110 million Americans are currently dealing with some form of STI, with HPV being the most widespread (79 million cases).

The number of per-year diagnoses has been steadily climbing over the last two decades, rising from 15 million new cases in 1996, to 18.9 million in 2000, and 19.7 million diagnoses today. The CDC noted, however, that data-capturing methods have changed between then and now and there could exist some discrepancy in the overall numbers.

Despite any discrepancies, the data is still alarming. In the 2013 report, the CDC data show that HPV is by far the fastest growing STI, with 14.1 million new cases. In contrast, the second most diagnosed STI, chlamydia, has only infected 2.86 million new people in the last year. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, infected about 41,400 people.

Despite HIV only contributing to a small percentage of the overall infection rate, the report authors note that the bulk of the $16 billion healthcare costs go directly to care for those patients, mainly due to the fact that HIV/AIDS patients need care for life.

But the other infections on the list, such as chlamydia, are not any less serious. Some of these STIs, if left untreated, can lead to complications and end up costing far more than treating the initial infection(s).

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, has become resistant to many forms of antibiotics over the course of the last 70+ years. The bacteria still continues to puzzle disease experts as it morphs so readily into other strains.

Experts, which often call these morphed strains “multidrug-resistant gonorrhea,” reported in a separate study published in the CDC´s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that these strains are a result of too few antibiotics in development and a lack of alternative therapies.

The report also shows that women were, and still are, slightly more at risk for developing STIs, with an estimated 51 percent of all diagnoses occurring in that group.

Catherine Satterwhite, an epidemiologist with the CDC, said a lack of insurance and limited access to healthcare services in many parts of the country are major factors in the disproportionate representation of young people, particularly women, in the findings.

This is a wake-up call for the US healthcare system, she exclaimed.

“People need to remember that all STIs are preventable, treatable, and many curable,” she told ABC News. “There´s lots of opportunity to save the nation´s health and save billions of dollars a year in healthcare dollars, especially for the younger population.”

The CDC had this to say in its report:

“Because STIs are preventable, significant reductions in new infections are not only possible, they are urgently needed. Prevention can minimize the negative, long-term consequences of STIs and also reduce healthcare costs. The high incidence and overall prevalence of STIs in the general population suggests that many Americans are at substantial risk of exposure to STIs, underscoring the need for STI prevention. Abstaining from sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and consistently and correctly using condoms are all effective STI prevention strategies. Safe, effective vaccines are also available to prevent HBV and some types of HPV that cause disease and cancer. And for all individuals who are sexually active — particularly young people — STI screening and prompt treatment (if infected) are critical to protect a person´s health and prevent transmission to others.”

For those who are sexually active, the CDC recommends that they talk to their healthcare provider about STIs and which tests may be best for them.

The report states that all adults and adolescents should be tested at least once for HIV. It also recommends that annual chlamydia screening should be done for all sexually active women 25 and under, and with any older women who have multiple sexual partners. It recommends yearly gonorrhea screening for at-risk sexually active women, especially for those who live in communities with a high burden of disease.

Furthermore, all pregnant women should be tested for HIV, chlamydia and hepatitis B, and gonorrhea testing for at-risk pregnant women at their first prenatal visit. Trichomoniasis screening should be given at least annually for all women infected with HIV.

The report recommends screening for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV at least once a year for all active gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have multiple sexual partners. Frequent screening for these infections should also be conducted in these men who use, or have partners who use, illicit drugs (particularly methamphetamines).

Satterwhite emphasizes the need for safe sexual practices.

“Wear a condom correctly, think about abstinence, practice monogamy, and get appropriate screening if you´re high risk,” she said.

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