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August 8, 2011

STI Awareness Monday

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 50 percent of sexually active people will at some point in their lives have genital human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In addition, nearly 1 out of 5 Americans who are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a different STI, do not know they have it. Many other STIs, including chlamydia, herpes, trichomonas and gonorrhea, are also unknowingly spread and left untreated each year.

STIs can be more than just a nuisance, they can lead to very serious conditions including cervical, penile and anal cancer, genital warts (from HPV), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS; from HIV), liver cirrhosis and cancer (from hepatitis), infertility, and more. Prevention of and early screening for these diseases is key to having a healthy sexual life.

When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of contracting other STIs. However, the most reliable way to avoid STIs is to abstain from sex or to have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person.

Anyone who has sex is susceptible to an infection, but having multiple current partners, having a new partner, inconsistent condom use, having sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, having sex in exchange for money or drugs, or being a man who has had sex with a man greatly increase one's risk of STI infection.

Tthe CDC recommends all adolescents and adults between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once in their life as a routine part of medical care. Yearly testing is advised for HIV and other STIs (including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) for those at high risk.

Regular cervical cancer screening is essential for all women (even those who get the HPV vaccine). Cervical cancer is easily diagnosable and treatable if it is detected early enough for abnormal cells to be removed. Women younger than age 30 are advised to get a Pap test once a year while women over 30 years old should be tested every three years. HPV DNA tests, in combination with a Pap test, may also be advised for those over 30.

Don't assume that you're receiving STI testing every time you have a gynecologic exam or Pap test. Many doctors do not offer testing for STIs unless you specifically ask to be tested. If you think you should be tested for any of the above, schedule an appointment with your doctor this week.

To learn more details about specific STIs, go to http://www.cdc.gov/std/general/default.htm. For more information on condom effectiveness, visit http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/latex.htm. To view the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations for STI screening, go to http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf08/methods/stinfections.htm.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.