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Doctors encourage patients to get tested for STDs
Many diseases have no symptoms leading to a silent epidemic in Georgia
lifehealth
A paramedic handles blood samples to be tested for AID. Health authorities provided free blood tests to mark World AIDS Day in 2010. - photo by LUIS ROMERO

By the numbers

Georgia’s rate of infection versus other 49 states:

  • 1st syphilis
  • 5th HIV/AIDs
  • 8th gonorrhea
  • 8th chlamydia

The Peach State has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the nation. Many patients go undiagnosed every year because patients may not experience any significant signs or symptoms. However, if left untreated, some STDs can lead to infertility, cancer and death. Talk with your doctor about what tests and frequency is right for you. For more information, visit www.phdistrict2.org or www.cdc.gov.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Talking about sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases is never an easy task, even with a medical professional. However, the need for the conversation is crucial, especially in Georgia.

The Southern state has some of the highest STD rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Georgia ranks first in primary and secondary syphilis as of 2012, fifth in HIV/AIDS and eighth in gonorrhea and chlamydia, according to the CDC’s state health profile from 2013.

Doctors hope to change these numbers by encouraging people to get tested and be protected as April is STD Awareness Month.

“It’s difficult (to talk to your doctor) because of embarrassment,” said Dr. Michael Randell, an obstetrician/gynecologist with OB/GYN Atlanta. “But people shouldn’t be embarrassed about it because of the consequences of these infections. Chlamydia can lead to infertility; HPV can lead to cervical cancer.”

In fact, the CDC notes half of all sexually active people will contract an STD by the age of 25, most times without knowing it.

“In my experience, most people (who) were diagnosed with an STD weren’t aware that they had one,” Randell said.

Dave Palmer from District 2 Public Health in Gainesville recommends residents get tested at least once a year to ensure a disease is not present without any symptoms or a disease is not causing complications.

Some infections can be cured, but others are permanent. Getting tested is the only way to be sure an STD does not turn into a life-long or life-threatening problem. People may be tested at a doctor’s office or the health department.

“People can just come to the health department and discuss concerns with a nurse,” Palmer said. “Based on their history, they will give them a recommended screening schedule. We know that right now chlamydia is the No. 1 STD in Georgia; even in our area it’s the highest one.”

Detecting things such as HPV (human papillomavirus) and other STDs early is essential because the effects can be devastating if not treated.

“It’s important to detect (HPV) in order to know your risk factors for getting cervical cancer,” Randell said. “Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and can increase the likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy. Hepatitis can cause liver disease.”

Syphilis can lead to death if not treated, and HIV/AIDS are lifelong battles. Public health can also test for the diseases.

Getting tested, most times, is a simple and painless procedure. Some tests can be done by drawing blood, others require a culture, and some need a swab of material, the doctors said. All can be done by a general practitioner or female health professional.

“We can do a blood test to look at certain antibodies, or a culture/swab to do DNA/RNA analysis,” Randell said. “None of them are painful, and the value that you get is worth whatever discomfort you may have.”

For HIV/AIDS testing and support, the Ryan White Clinic in Gainesville provides services to those who may have the virus or who have already been diagnosed.

“When people come in, it is very confidential,” Palmer said. “They do all types of testing. The testing has gotten so advanced that they can just do a swab inside your mouth and test it that way.

“For people who test positive for HIV, there is counseling for what to do next. Then we test for the AIDS virus and give them medicines.”

The CDC recommends all people from ages 13 to 64 get tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV, since it can be spread through blood contact as well.

The CDC also emphasizes the only way to completely prevent contraction of an STD is abstinence, but using protective measures can help prevent the spread of STDs.

Such measures include using condoms and dental dams, limiting the number of intercourse partners and getting an HPV vaccine. Additionally, being monogamous with a partner who has also been tested is beneficial to prevent spread.

“When you expose yourself to any type of danger, you can get hurt, and an STD is a danger,” Palmer said. “One of the No. 1 things is to know your partner. No. 2 is if you’re in a new relationship, talk to that person about their sexual history to determine risk.”

STD testing is not a routine part of a well-person check-up, so consult a medical professional about getting tested. These services are  offered by certain community health offices, public health and more.

For more information, visit www.phdistrict2.org or www.cdc.gov.

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