If you think the quarantines that kept people from dating and sex mean you’re less likely to catch an STD, think again. The pandemic may have caused a dip in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the US very early on, but new data reveals that the decline was short-lived. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that cases of STDs decreased during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic but increased by the end of 2020. And people between the ages of 15-24 made up more than half (53%) of all reported cases of STDs.
Rates of syphilis and gonorrhea, two common STDs, climbed. And while the report showed declines in chlamydia, another common STD, experts are quick to point out that it is likely due to a decrease in screening, rather than a drop in actual cases.
Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, is breaking down common myths about STDs and sharing simple steps to take to protect your sexual health, according to a recent press release. Just remember S.T.D.:
• Start by getting back to care
• Test to know if you have an STD
• Do get treatment to protect your health and others
“Too many young people are at a high risk of STDs, but they may not know it or understand how important it is to be tested and treated, even when they lack symptoms. Reluctance to discuss risk with a healthcare provider is a common barrier, but the pandemic has added another layer of complication,” said Damian “Pat” Alagia, III, MD, an OB/GYN and medical director of women’s health for Quest Diagnostics. “The good news is that there are services available for individuals, including college students, that provide direct access to STD testing without the need to visit a doctor’s office first, so they can get the screening and treatment they need if they put off care during the pandemic, have personal privacy concerns, or are uncomfortable discussing their sexual history with a healthcare provider face to face.”
Myth #1: No symptoms means no STD.
STDs are often silent and without symptoms. In fact, up to 50% of men and 90% of women with chlamydia don’t show symptoms, and about 80% of women with gonorrhea have no symptoms. The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested.
Myth #2: I would know if my partner had an STD.
This goes along with myth #1. You usually can’t see that someone has an STD – even a doctor can’t tell by looking at people. And it’s possible your partner may have an STD and not know it. Reminder: people don’t always have symptoms.
Myth #3: STDs don’t have serious health effects.
While college students may be more focused on pregnancy prevention than starting families, understanding the potential for long-term health effects is important. If left unchecked, STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea – which are curable with treatment – can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women and cause infertility in all people.
Myth #4: If my doctor thought I had an STD, he or she would have tested me for it.
Not necessarily. Some younger people are uncomfortable or embarrassed to have a frank conversation about their sexual behavior with their doctors, are not honest about their sexual history, and may not understand their STD risk. On the flip side, past research by Quest Diagnostics found gaps in care among doctors, with annual screening guidelines sometimes overlooked, especially if someone doesn’t have symptoms.
Myth #5: My partner and I are exclusive, so I don’t need to be tested.
In fact, if you and your partner have each had sex before, you are both at risk unless you both got tested before you became intimate. According to the CDC, all sexually active women under the age of 25 should be screened once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea, regardless of the number of sex partners, and all sexually active men who have sex with men should be tested at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Myth #6: Getting tested is a hassle—and embarrassing.
Screening for STDs does not have to be daunting or embarrassing. Consumer-initiated testing services like QuestDirect™ from Quest Diagnostics allow people to purchase a test discreetly online, including tests for some of the most common STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. You can choose to share results with your doctor or talk with an independent physician about your results to come up with a plan that supports your health, including prescription treatment if appropriate. Other options include making an appointment with a primary care doctor or, for females, an OB/GYN, and many colleges have health clinics that may offer STD testing. The CDC also offers resources to find a testing site near you at GetTested.cdc.gov.
The thought of having an STD can be scary, but most are curable and catching them early is the best way to protect yourself and others. Knowledge is power. Just remember these simple steps: S.T.D.
• Start by getting back to care. A majority of people put off preventive care during the pandemic.
• Test to know if you have an STD. Remember, if sexually active, the only true way to know whether you have an STD is to get tested.
• Do get treatment to protect your health and others. Even without symptoms, you can carry and spread an STD, and seeking testing and treatment is not something you need to be intimidated about.
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