April marks the annual observance of STD Awareness Month. And for this month, I’d like to focus on the link between STD prevention and HIV prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been invested in exploring the intersection of HIV and other STDs. Every year, 20 million new STDs occur including 50,000 new HIV infections. We know that people who have STDs such as gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis are more likely to get HIV compared to people who do not. In fact, being infected with genital herpes makes you 3 times more likely to get infected with HIV, if exposed. And data collected from several major U.S. cities indicate that nearly 45% of gay and bisexual men with syphilis are also infected with HIV.
So this STD Awareness Month, I encourage the public, health care providers, and community-based organizations to bring a renewed sense of enthusiasm and focus to their STD awareness and prevention efforts. Individuals should know that the same behaviors that put you at risk for acquiring STDs can put you at risk for getting HIV. Physicians should follow recommended screening and treatment guidelines. And community-based organizations should support local STD and HIV prevention efforts.
The link between STDs and HIV is real. By educating yourself on ways to lower your risk, you can take action to protect your health. Not having sex is the most effective way to prevent STDs and HIV, but if you are sexually active, you can lower your risk of STDs and HIV by
- Choosing one partner and agreeing to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for STDs and HIV and share your test results with one another.
- Limiting the number of people you have sex with if you have more than one partner.
- Using latex condoms or dental dams the right way every time you have sex.
STD and HIV testing is a critical part of preventing the spread of disease. I am urging providers to educate patients on their risk for STDs and HIV, and make taking a sexual history a priority. The behaviors and circumstances that put people at risk for STDs also put them at risk for HIV; take the opportunity to offer HIV testing to all patients who are tested for an STD. With 20% of new HIV cases being detected in STD clinics, it’s clear that a continued merging of STD and HIV prevention efforts is needed. As well, patients diagnosed with HIV at STD clinics have been found to have less-advanced disease.
You can go to the CDC Website to find out more about STD Awareness Month.