When is the last time you were tested for a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 19 million people are diagnosed with some type of STD. And young people are disproportionately affected. While young people represent only 25 percent of Americans having sex, nearly half of all STD cases occur in young people aged 15 to 24. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, preventable and treatable STDs, are the most common among young people, says the CDC. Young people are four times more likely to have these STDs than the general population.
African-American teens, especially young Black women, bear the brunt of the STD epidemic here in the U.S. According to a 2009 CDC study on STD rates among young people:
— Forty-eight percent of African-American female teens have been diagnosed with an STD.
— Gonorrhea rates among African-Americans are higher than any other racial or ethnic group and 20 times higher than that of whites.
— Blacks represent 12 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for about 71 percent of reported gonorrhea cases and almost half of all chlamydia and syphilis cases (48 percent and 49 percent, respectively) in 2008.
— Among women, Black women 15 to 19 years of age had the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea (10,513 per 100,000 and 2,934 per 100,000, respectively), followed by Black women ages 20 to 24 (9,373 per 100,000 and 2,770 per 100,000, respectively).
While many STDs can be cured with medicine, some cannot, such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause genital warts in men and women, and can lead to cervical cancer in women. And while HPV normally clears itself over time, a recent study found it takes longer for Black women’s bodies to clear up their own HPV, which leaves them more vulnerable to developing cervical cancer.
What you might not know is that in many people, STDs don't show any symptoms. And having undiagnosed and untreated STDs can cause a range of health issues such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infections, scarring and infertility in women. Not to mention, you can continue to unknowingly infect other people. Also, having an untreated STD lowers your immune system, which can make you more vulnerable to becoming HIV-positive if you come into contact with the virus.
Experts recommend that young women under the age of 26 get tested for chlamydia every year, but young men also need to be proactive and get tested for STDs yearly as well.
And while these stats seem very daunting, contracting an STD doesn't have to happen to you. While abstaining from sexual contact is one way, using condoms each and every time, having conversations with your partners about STDs and getting tested annually will make a huge difference.
But most important, you need to educate yourself about these diseases. Remember, knowledge is power.
To learn more about STDs and how to prevent them, go here.
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