As a health reporter, I feel as if I'm always a bit of a downer, reporting sobering news like this new government report that finds that sexually transmitted diseases are rising and that women bear the brunt of the burden. We pay a hefty toll for such ills as gonorrhea and chlamydia--which go undiagnosed half the time--in the form of lifelong infertility. Women, especially black women, account for the highest rates of both of these diseases. And consider these consequences reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
--Up to 40 percent of women with untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and chronic pelvic pain. Most of the time, these infections cause no symptoms, so women have no idea they've contracted an STD.
--Untreated STDs can be detrimental to developing fetuses, leading to eye diseases and pneumonia in newborns, for example. Syphilis, which can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, causes mental retardation in newborns--or kills them.
--Human papillomavirus is still by far the most prevalent STD and accounts for nearly all cases of cervical cancer and many cases of esophageal cancer. It also poses a bigger health threat to women than men (who are at risk for anal or esophageal cancer from HPV infections).
What to do? Avoiding unprotected sex with a new partner--many of us still don't insist that men wear condoms--is a biggie to protect against infections. Women under 27 can get the Gardasil vaccine to protect against HPV transmission. The CDC recommends annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women under 26 and supports screening high-risk sexually active women for gonorrhea. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recommends that all women have an HIV test.
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