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110 million Americans have a sexually transmitted infection. Protect yourself.
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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are exactly what they sound like: infections spread through sexual contact. The infections can be spread through any intimate contact such as vaginal, oral or anal sex, or genital touching.

You’ve likely heard the terms “STI” and “STD” (sexually transmitted diesease) used interchangeably but the two are technically different. A sexually transmitted infection doesn’t neccesarily cause symptoms while a disease does. An infections is upgraded to disease status when it causes symptoms. In this post, we use the term STI.

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Here’s what you should know about STI’s:

1) They’re really common. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur in the US each year.Over 100 million Americans have an STI.

2) They really affect young people. Half of new infections occur in young people (ages 15-24) even though they represent just 25 percent of the country’s sexually active population. Young people accounted for 70 percent of new gonorrhea cases, 63 percent of new chhlamydia cases, and 49 percent of HPV cases in 2012.

However, according to a recent Globe Magazine story:

STD rates among [baby] boomers are on the rise. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that between 2000 and 2010, cases of some STDs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, nearly tripled among those 50 and older. CDC research has found that one-fifth of all people living with HIV in the United States are older than 55.

3) The United States has the highest rate of STI infection in the industrialized world.

4) Most people don’t know they have one. Most people don’t show symptoms of an STI and thus spread the infection unknowingly. Of the estimated 570,000 new cases of gonorrhea in 2013, only 200,000 know they were infected. Of the estimated 1.8 million new cases of chlamydia, only 1 million reported the infection.

5) They’re preventable. Practing safe sex can prevent STI transmittance.

6) They’re really expensive. Sixteen billion dollars are spent on STI treatment each year.

These are the five most common infections:

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Prevalence: Over 79 million Americans have HPV,and 14 million new infections are reported each year.

Prevention: Condoms can prevent the spread of HPV. Vaccines can also help protect against the virus.

Symptoms: Genital warts, cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or throat. Not everyone shows symptoms, making it easy to spread the virus unknowingly.

Treatment: There is no treatment for the virus itself but there are treatments for the symptoms. Most people naturally clear themselves of the virus in 2 years.

HSV-2 (a.k.a. genital herpes)

Prevalence: Over 24 million Americans have genital herpes. One in six people ages 14 to 49 are infected.

Prevention: Condoms can decrease the risk of catching the infection. If the area infected is not covered by the condom, however, the infection can still spread.

Symptoms: Sores in the genital area or mouth, flu-like symptoms. The sores range in severity from painful blisters to small, pimple-like bumps. Many people do not show symptoms, or mistake the symptoms for a zit or ingrown hair, which contributes to its spread.

Treatment: While there isn’t a treatment for the virus itself, there are medicines that can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks and decrease the risk of transmission.

Trichomoniasis (aka Trich)

Prevalence: Nearly four million Americans have trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted parasite.

Prevention: Condoms can decrease the risk of catching the infection by minimizing direct genital contact. However, skin is still exposed so the infection can still spread.

Symptoms: Genital inflammation or itching, abnormal discharge, urinary discomfort and pain when having sex. In pregnant woman, the infection can cause premature and underweight birth. Only about 30 percent of people show symptoms, making it easy to transmit.

Treatment: Prescription medicine can cure the infection.

Chlamydia

Prevalence: Approximately 1.5 million Americans have chlamydia.

Prevention: Condoms can decrease the risk of catching the infection. Chlamydia can be spread without ejaculation.

Symptoms: Abnormal discharge, burning sensation when urinating, rectal pain or bleeding, pain and swelling in testicles. Chlamydia can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant. Pregnant women can transmit the infection to their child during labor.

Treatment: Prescription medicine can cure the infection.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Prevalence: More than one million Americans have HIV. One in six Americans living with the virus are unaware of their infection. The infection is most common in gay and bisexual men but affects all demographics.

Prevention: HIV is spread through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk. Using condoms and disinfecting needles can decrease the chances of spreading the virus.

Symptoms: Flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat and aches. The virus multiplies and destroys the immune system, making the body extremely vulnerable to infection and disease. The final stage of the infection is called AIDS.

Treatment: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) can prevent the virus from multiplying and taking over the immune system but cannot cure the virus.

Coming up next: Safe Sex is Great Sex. Protect Yourself.