Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): the mere mention of these diseases invokes so many emotions—from anxiety and obvious discomfort, to plain old scientific curiosity. About half of the approximately 19 million new STI cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year occur in 15 to 24 year-olds—so if you’ve tested positive for an STI in the past, you’re anything but alone.
While the incidences of many reportable STIs are decreasing, chlamydia is on the rise—it’s currently the most commonly diagnosed bacterial STI on OSU’s campus. Here in Oregon, we’re expected to see more than 14,000 cases in 2012, which follows a trend of steady increases over the past decade. Benton County has had 234 cases so far this year, up from 221 this time in 2011. OSU reports a prevalence of 0.5 percent in students tested on campus—that’s 1 in every 200 tested—and county-wide cases tend to increase when students return in the fall. Given that chlamydia can be symptomless, the number of infected students and county residents is likely higher than reported statistics. Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics, and be sure to get tested if you’re at risk—in women, this disease can cause irreversible reproductive tract damage, and can be passed to infants by pregnant mothers.
Gonorrhea in Benton County tends to be sporadic; a few more cases (22) have been reported this year than in 2011. Gonorrhea is not established here as it is in other counties, and Benton County’s Health Department works hard to make sure it doesn’t become common. This STI, which can be symptomless, can cause severe health damage, including pelvic inflammatory disease in women, epididymitis in men, and infertility in both sexes. When gonorrhea is diagnosed here, “It feels like we’re putting out forest fires,” commented a local health professional—medical specialists attempt to also treat any sexual partners of positive individuals. Fortunately, chlamydia and gonorrhea tests are now much more sensitive than in the past, and can be done via vaginal swabs for women or urine for both men and women.
According to the CDC, one out of six people aged 14 to 49 has a genital HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus type 2) infection. While it’s difficult to estimate local prevalences of HSV and genital human papillomavirus (HPV)—many individuals are unaware of their infections—the vast majority of HSV infections at OSU are type 1 (oral—think cold sores) rather than type 2 (think genital warts). However, many cases of genital HSV-1 are diagnosed on campus as a result of oral sex, although outbreaks of genital warts from HSV-1 are generally much less frequent or severe. HSV-1 is an incredibly common virus—as many as 90 percent of American adults have been exposed.
Although incidences of genital HPV have decreased with the availability of a vaccine, HPV is still the most common STI. Fortunately, in 90 percent of cases the body’s natural immune defenses can clear HPV infections within two years. But get tested, ladies—certain strains of this virus can cause genital warts in both sexes, or cervical cancer in women. While the CDC estimates that more than half of American men will contract HPV in their lifetimes, there is currently no reliable test for HPV in males.
While it’s extremely important to consider the long-term health consequences of STIs (which can be severe), most are preventable by using condoms, choosing your partners wisely, and talking to your partner about his or her sexual history. OSU has 13 locations on campus that offer free condoms—no questions asked—to students. Testing and treatment facilities are available for Benton County residents and for OSU students, including a new STI clinic at the Benton County Health Department. And locally, Benton County Family Planning, OSU Student Health, and the Benton County Reproductive Health/STD Clinic are each taking part in the national Infertility Prevention Program to help prevent the reproductive consequences of STIs in women.
Oregon’s Less Common STIs:
Oregon is experiencing an outbreak of early syphilis, mainly in men who have sex with men in metropolitan areas—but the number of cases diagnosed in women in rising. While Benton County reported only one new case this year, for January to July 2012 the state reported 165 cases as compared to only 90 in 2011.
For January to July 2012, four cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Benton County; 168 total in Oregon. The CDC ranked Oregon 26th highest among the 50 states in cumulative reported AIDS cases (6,554) through 2008; most of these cases occurred in metropolitan areas in white men who had sex with men.
By Genevieve Weber
– Locations of free condoms for students on the OSU campus
– OSU Student Health STI Information
– Monthly and yearly communicable disease statistics for Oregon
– Benton County Health Status Report (Communicable Diseases) 2010
Sexually Transmitted Infection Information:
Genital HPV Infection: http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm
Genital Herpes: http://www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes/STDFact-Herpes.htm