Every year in April, we observe STD Awareness Month. This is an opportunity for individuals, doctors, and communities to address ways to prevent some of the nearly 20 million sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that occur in the United States each year. Half of all new infections occur among people between the ages of 15 to 24. It is estimated that sexually transmitted diseases cost the healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs. Unfortunately, the rates of STDs are trending upwards over the past few years in Florida and in Polk County. In Polk, approximately eight individuals are diagnosed with an STD every day. This means one individual is diagnosed with an STD every three hours.
Many cases of sexually transmitted diseases go undiagnosed. Since some viral infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital herpes, are not usually reported at all, the cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis represent only a fraction of the true burden of STDs in the United States. Even more worrisome is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. Since the middle of the twentieth century, Neisseria gonorrhoeae has developed increasing resistance to a number of antibiotics including penicillins, tetracyclines, and fluoroquinolones. Currently, cephalosporins remains the mainstay of treatment, however its susceptibility is declining in the U.S. while other countries are reporting cephalosporin-resistant cases. In response to this growing concern, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends dual therapy with ceftriaxone plus azithromycin or doxycycline for the first-line treatment of gonorrhea. If cephalosporin-resistant N. gonorrhoeae becomes widespread, the public health impacts would be devastating.
These trends highlight the importance of prevention and the need to promote STD awareness. As physicians, we seek to empower our patients to take control and protect themselves and their sexual partners. We need to reinforce the importance of abstinence, reduction of sexual partners, correct and consistent condom usage, vaccinations against HPV and Hepatitis B, as well as STD testing. The Department of Health and the CDC have many resources regarding STDs along with materials you can share with patients or community members.
by DR. ULYEE CHOE, Director of FDOH-Polk
About the Author: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.