Your Sexual Health Update
New STD Scares
More than one million cases of chlamydia, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility, were reported in the U.S. last year -- the most ever for an STD. Rates for gonorrhea -- another PID trigger -- increased for the second year in a row in 2006. Syphilis, though still uncommon, became more widespread among women last year, while genital herpes is expected to affect half of all women by 2025; both conditions can harm fetal health if left untreated in pregnancy. Newly discovered STDs (such as M. genitalium, a bacterium that can lead to PID and inflammation of the cervix and urethra) now affect an estimated 70,000 women ages 20 and 24. How to explain the spread of so many STDs? While it's hard to pinpoint a single cause, the expansion of sophisticated screening tests along with an underfunding of prevention programs could play a role.
Because most STDs have no noticeable signs, and fewer than one in three physicians routinely screens patients for STDs, you could have one of these conditions and not know it. "We hear about a lot of asymptomatic young women who don't find out they're infected until they're 35 and can't get pregnant," says Lynn Barclay, president and CEO of the nonprofit American Social Health Association.Protect-Yourself Plan
If you've never been tested for an STD or you've had a new partner since your last tests, talk to your doctor about the smartest screenings for you (most are covered by insurance). The CDC now recommends that all sexually active women under age 26 -- and any woman who's had sex with multiple or new people in the last year -- get an annual urine test for chlamydia. If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you should also request a blood test to screen for HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis. Some experts say that screening for herpes simplex virus 2 is a good idea as well. Finally, keep up with your annual pelvic exams. They allow your doctor to look for signs of an infection, such as inflammation that could indicate M. genitalium.
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