Five Important Facts To Remember For National STD Awareness Month

April marks National STD Awareness Month, a campaign spearheaded by the Centers for Disease Control in an effort to combat the nation’s high rates of sexually transmitted infections. The United States currently has the highest rates of STDs of any other nation in the developed world. Here are five important facts to remember about the ongoing public health epidemic in this country:

1. Treating STDs costs the United States an estimated $17 billion each year. Each year, there are about 19 million new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S., and the CDC estimates that treating all of those STDs costs the health care system an annual $17 billion. Half of those new infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. That’s partly because young adults still don’t necessarily receive all of the sexual health resources they need to make healthy decisions, particularly in the states that don’t have adequate standards for comprehensive sex ed courses — and actually may end up teaching students false information about how STDs are spread.

2. Our current epidemic is driven by just two STDs — even though there’s already a vaccine to prevent one of them. According to CDC officials, the nation’s STD epidemic is mainly fueled by HPV and chlamydia. That’s good and bad news. On one hand, chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics, and there’s already an extremely effective vaccine to prevent HPV transmission. But young Americans still aren’t getting their HPV shots, even though the CDC urges parents to vaccinate their children — both girls and boys — before they reach their early 20s. Just 35 percent of girls between 13 and 17 received their recommended HPV shots in 2011, partly because parents are still under the false impression that the HPV vaccine isn’t safe, or will somehow lead directly to sexual promiscuity.

3. Women disproportionately bear the burden of STDs. Due to the female anatomy, the negative impacts of STDs tend to weigh more heavily on women. Women are actually more likely to contract STDs than men are — but they’re also less likely to notice the symptoms, both because they’re less apparent on female genitalia and because women often confuse STD symptoms for less serious issues, like a yeast infection. Sexually transmitted infections often have more longer-term consequences for women. They can lead to infertility, and pregnant women can pass STDs to their unborn babies.

4. If we don’t invest in more vaccine research, common STDs may become resistant to antibiotics. Gonorrhea is the second most common STD in the U.S., but it’s growing resistant to the only effective antibiotic we have left to treat it. The CDC — which notes that gonorrhea “is a major cause of serious reproductive complications in women and can facilitate HIV transmission” — is urging doctors to try a combination treatment for the infection instead. Pharmaceutical companies have largely avoided developing new types of vaccines because it’s not as profitable for them, but drug-resistant diseases are rapidly becoming a serious global health issue.

5. Obamacare makes it easier to get tested. As part of the preventative services that the health care reform law now requires insurance companies to provide free of charge, U.S. women are able to receive HIV/AIDS counseling, STD counseling, and HPV testing without a co-pay. And, since health law requires insurers to cover the services recommended by the experts on the U.S. Preventative Task Force, HIV testing will now be covered under Obamacare — helping ensure that Americans are regularly screened for the virus, just as they’re screened for high blood pressure or high cholesterol at an annual check-up.