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Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common bacterial 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.

Adolescent girls
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.

If pregnant
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.

Adolescent boys
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 signs or symptoms:

  • 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).

Links

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Tool Kit for Teen Care: Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

STIs: Learn How to Protect Yourself


Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics. Contraception and adolescents (policy statement). Nov 2007. Pediatrics 120(5):1135-1148. Available on the Internet at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org. Accessed 28 Jan 2008.

American Academy of Family Physicians. Chlamydia. July 2008. Available on the Internet at http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/sexinfections/sti/204.html through http://familydoctor.org. Accessed 8 Sept 2008.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Tool kit for teen care: sexually transmitted diseases. 2003. Available on the Internet at http://www.medem.com. Accessed 17 Jan 2008.

American Social Health Association. Gonorrhea (fact sheet). Available on the Internet at http://www.ashastd.org. Accessed 18 Jan 2008.

Berg AO, for the US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for chlamydial infection: recommendations and rationale. Apr 2001. Am J Prev Med 20(3 Suppl):90-94. Available on the Internet at http://www.guideline.gov. Accessed 19 Jul 2004; revision of 17 Jul 2007 accessed 17 Jan 2008.

Hagan JF, Shaw JS and Duncan PM, eds. Bright Futures Guidelines: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. 2008. Elk Grove Village, Ill: American Academy of Pediatrics, pp. 169, 173.

Hollblad-Fadiman K and Goldman SM, for the American College of Preventive Medicine. Screening for chlamydia trachomatis (practice policy statement). Apr 2003. Am J Prev Med 24(3):287-292. Available on the Internet at http://www.guideline.gov. Accessed 19 Jul 2004 and 18 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia fact sheet. Last modified 20 Dec 2007. Available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/STDFact-Chlamydia.htm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed 19 Jul 2004 and 23 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent STDS among MSM. Available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/msm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed 23 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Questions and answers for the general public: revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and pregnant women in healthcare settings. Last modified 22 Jan 2007. Available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/qa/qa_general-public.htm through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed 28 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2006. 4 Aug 2006. MMWR 55(RR11). Available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment. Accessed 23 Jan 2008.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2007: Infectious Diseases. Available on the Internet at http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/pocketgd07/gcp2b.htm through http://www.ahrq.gov. Accessed 17 Jan 2008.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for chlamydial infection (recommendation statement). 17 Jul 2007. Ann Intern Med 17;147(2):128-34. Available on the Internet at http://www.guideline.gov. Accessed 23 Jan 2008.