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Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States today, but most infected people have no symptoms. These infections most commonly affect the genitals, but may also cause infections of other mucous membranes, eyes, or joints. Pregnant women may transmit the infections to their newborns. Often progressing silently, these diseases can cause female infertility and other damage. Heterosexual males are not routinely screened, although an infected male can spread these diseases and even re-infect a partner if he does not complete treatment. When diagnosed early, both diseases can be cured by antibiotics.
If you are in your teens or early 20’s and sexually active, you face the greatest risk of infection. Parents may not realize that nearly half of all teens as young as 13 years old have had intercourse at least once. Early sexual activity tends to lead to having more partners, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, which increases the risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as these. A 2005 CDC study showed that more than one third of sexually active students didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex. Without this protection, they were more vulnerable to these and other diseases.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are spread by intimate sexual contact and can infect the body through the genitals, anus, or mouth. Risk factors include the following: you are sexually active and less than 25 years old, you are sexually active and of African or Hispanic descent, you have a new male sex partner or have had 2 or more partners during the last year, you use barrier contraception inconsistently, or you have a history of sexually transmitted diseases. Having one of these diseases increases your risk of becoming infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Many people have chlamydia and gonorrhea infections at the same time.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the following:
The American Academy of Pediatrics points out that although annual screening is recommended for all young, sexually active females, you should get tested again after sex with any new partner.
The American College of Preventive Medicine suggests the following for females:
- Have your health care provider review your risk factors at each routine care appointment so you know if you are presently at risk.
- Get a chlamydia test once a year if you have any of the risk factors.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the following:
- If you are pregnant and 25 years old or younger, you should be tested for chlamydial infection.
- If you are pregnant and at increased risk, you should be tested for gonorrhea.
A health care provider should routinely assess your risk if you engage in sexual activity or have had sexual contact. You need prevention information, even if you are only considering sexual activities, and to know what STD tests, if any, would be appropriate. Without symptoms, heterosexual males are usually not screened, even though they may obtain and spread these infections. Screening for STDs is, however, considered for adolescent boys and young men in correctional facilities and those seen in adolescent and STD clinics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that males who have sex with males be screened at least once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea as well as syphilis and HIV, with screening at 3- to 6-month intervals appropriate if he or a partner has risk factors such as multiple or anonymous partners or illicit drug use.
Talk to your health care provider
Some health care providers fail to discuss sexual health issues at all, especially with young patients. This leaves the health risks unchecked. If your health care provider does not bring up sexual health topics, you can simply ask for a test or a risk assessment. You can also use confidential services to obtain testing or counseling.
Although it is possible to have an STD without knowing it, you should always seek medical attention from your health care provider if you have any of the following or :
- Painful urination (often a burning sensation)
- Vaginal discharge in women
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Irregular periods in women
- A discharge from the penis in men
- Trouble getting pregnant
- Pain in the testicles in men
Re-infection is common
- Re-infection is common, especially among teens. If you are treated for these diseases, know when you should be re-tested (usually, after about 3 months, but no later than 1 year).
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Tool Kit for Teen Care: Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
STIs: Learn How to Protect Yourself
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