STDs in America: The Facts

Sexually Transmitted Diseases have existed for centuries, but when we hear terms like syphillis or AIDS, we sometimes forget that these are serious diseases that affect well-to-do Americans, not just impoverished communities overseas. And beyond HIV and the more life threatening STDs, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and other diseases are even more prevalent. From high school and college students to successful business professionals and even children, STDs in America are a real threat to our public health and well-being.

According to the CDC, chlamydia is the most common STD and is dangerous because men don’t show any symptoms. Women may get chlamydia well before they notice symptoms, making it more difficult to treat and more likely to develop into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), cause damage to reproductive organs, or even be passed on to a baby if a woman gives birth while she has chlamydia. It is estimated that nearly 2.3 million Americans between the ages of 14 and 39 currently have chlamydia. And the organization AVERT reports that chlamydia increased at a 9% rate between 2007 and 2008, and has been increasing steadily since 1997.

Genital herpes is another very common STD in the United States that is most often caused by the HSV-2 virus. The CDC reports that roughly one out of six Americans 14-49 years of age have genital herpes, and that it is more common in women.

The genital human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a disease that is getting more attention and has inspired some states and doctors to encourage vaccination in preteen girls to prevent the spread. It is the most common STD in the country, partially due to the fact that there are more than 40 strains of the disease. HPV can manifest itself through genital warts, cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer and vaginal cancer, and the CDC estimates that nearly 20 million Americans currently have some strain of HPV.

Condoms, abstinence and vaccines are all direct, practical ways of preventing STDs in America, but sex education is also an important tool that can teach students and the general public about the options they have regarding sex and protected sex. In many communities, sex education is still a controversial issue, and this NPR report found that just 7% of Americans believe that schools should teach sex ed. Besides the STDs listed in this post, there are many more risks — including unwanted pregnancies and HIV — that teens and young adults need to know about before having sex. Whether or not you agree with sex education in schools, it is clear that STDs are still a major public health issues in America and threaten the overall well-being of all demographics and age groups.