20 million new sexually transmitted infections each year

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Nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur each year, says a new report. This includes syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus type 2 and — the most common — HPV.

These infections cost the United States $16 billion in medical costs annually, the report continues, and 110 million infections exist at any given time — keeping in mind that one person could have multiple infections at once.

Four of the STIs can be treated and cured if diagnosed early: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. However, if not caught early, it can cause a serious pelvic infection and infertility in women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most sexually active people will have HPV in their lifetime. Those with a normal immune system will typically clear the virus from their bodies within two years. There is no treatment for the virus, but when the complications of HPV occur, such as genital warts, cervical cancer, penile cancer or oral cancer, there are treatments for those serious conditions.

The other STIs that can’t be treated — HIV, hepatitis B and herpes — always remain in the body. Treatment can only keep the infections at bay and the person can theoretically always pass it to their partners.

Youth are most affected. Half of all STIs occur among youth 15 to 24 years of age.

This particular report did not address African-Americans, but it has been previously shown that African-Americans are infected with sexually transmitted infections more than any other group. The latest CDC statistics show that black men and women:

  • Are infected with chlamydia seven times as much as whites and three times as much as Hispanics
  • Are infected with gonorrhea 17 times as much as whites and eight times as much as Hispanics
  • Are contracting syphilis most often — for example, rates of syphilis among black men more than doubled since 2006

STI Testing Recommendations from the CDC:

    • Annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women age 25 and under, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners.
    • Yearly gonorrhea screening for at-risk sexually active women (e.g., those with new or multiple sex partners, and women who live in communities with a high burden of disease).
    • Syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women at the first prenatal visit, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.
    • Screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV for all sexually active gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM who have multiple or anonymous partners should be screened more frequently for STDs (i.e., at three to six month intervals). In addition, MSM who have sex in conjunction with illicit drug use (particularly methamphetamine use) or whose sex partners participate in these activities should be screened more frequently.

CDC recommends that all adults and adolescents be tested for HIV. Those at high risk for HIV infection should be screened for HIV at least annually.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.