By Riva Preil
April marks Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Awareness Month. STI, a broader term for what has previously been referred to as sexually transmitted disease (STD) or venereal disease (VD), refers to a class of infections that can be spread from one individual to another via vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. In addition, the infections can be spread through non-sexual practices that involve transmission of bodily fluids from one person to another (ex. blood transfusion, sharing of injection needles, sharing of tattoo needles, needle-stick injuries, and childbirth or breastfeeding. Individuals may have received the infection without demonstrating symptoms of disease (hence the recent increased usage of the term “infection” in place of the previously used term “disease”), and in fact, sometimes the infection manifests as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and/or pelvic pain. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help treat the symptoms of PID and the associated pain.
There are many different causes of infection. Several of these include viral infection (ex. ex. viral hepatitis/Hepatitis B virus, herpes simplex, human immunodeficiency virus/HIV, and human papillomavirus/HPV), bacterial infection (ex. chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis), fungal infection (ex. candidiasis, or yeast infection), and protozoal infection (ex. trichomoniasis).
The statistics about STIs are alarming- in 1996, the World Health Organization estimated that approximately 1 million individuals became infected on a daily basis. In general, of those who become infected, approximately 30% are younger than twenty years old. STIs are found in teenage girls aged 14-19 on a 2 to 1 ratio compared to teenage boys of similar age, and approximately 25% of female teenagers in the United States have an STD according to the CDC. Furthermore, AIDS is the biggest cause of mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa, and approximately two billion people worldwide have been infected with Hepatitis B. Considering these frightening statistics, prevention is of the utmost importance. This includes vaccination for Hepatitis A and B as well as for some forms of HPV. In addition, proper condom usage is key. This involves maintaining proper 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) space at the tip to provide room for ejaculate. It is also important to use latex, polyisoprene, or polyurethane materials (to protect against HIV) and to avoid using oil as a lubricant due to the fact that it can create holes in the condom thereby rendering it ineffective.