Every day, more than 1 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). While some STIs are easily treatable and only cause mild symptoms, others are incurable and may involve a lifetime of recurrent outbreaks. April is STD Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to learn about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and how you can protect yourself.
Here’s what you need to know about the four most common incurable STDs.
Is There a Difference Between STDs and STIs?
The terms sexually transmitted infection (STI) and sexually transmitted disease (STD) are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. The primary difference is that an STI is the first step on the road to an STD. A disease often starts with an infection – it occurs when sexually transmitted bacteria or viruses enter the body and start to replicate. The initial infection may then progress into a disease – a condition that happens when a foreign invader disrupts the normal function of the body.
STIs are More Common Than You Think
According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 people in the United States had an STI in 2018. Sexually transmitted infections are incredibly common but many who have them fail to recognize the symptoms which means they could pass it unwittingly to others. An estimated 376 million people are newly infected with one of the four most common STIs each year – these include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
While the four STIs mentioned above are treatable, especially in the early stages, some of the most common STIs around the world are incurable. These diseases can often be treated to manage symptoms, but the disease may recur from time to time. Hepatitis B, HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes simplex virus (HSV) fall into this category.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 240 million people around the world are living with Hepatitis B, a liver infection caused by a virus that spreads through blood, semen, or other bodily fluids. HIV, the perpetrator of a global epidemic according to the WHO, affects approximately 37.9 million people around the world. The most common sexually transmitted infection is HPV or human papilloma virus. It affects 300 million women and is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer worldwide. Finally, herpes simplex virus affects an estimated 500 million people around the globe.
How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections
The only guaranteed way to avoid contracting or transmitting an STI is to practice abstinence. There are, however, other options that can help reduce your risk. For example, an effective vaccine exists for both Hepatitis B and HPV. The HPV vaccine is typically administered in two doses to children between the ages of 11 and 12, though it can be given as early as 9 years. The Hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of three shots starting within 24 hours of birth.
Here are some other ways to prevent the spread of STIs:
- Reducing your number of sexual partners. Reducing the number of sexual partners you have will lower your risk for contracting or transmitting sexually transmitted infections.
- Practicing mutual monogamy with your partner. You can reduce your risk for contracting an STD by practicing mutual monogamy with your partner.
- Using barrier methods during sex. Barrier methods such as male or female condoms and dental dams may help reduce your risk of getting or spreading an STI, though they won’t remove the risk entirely. Only abstinence can eliminate the risk.
- Getting tested and treated for STIs before sex. Have yourself and your partner tested and treated for STIs before you engage in sexual activity.
It’s your responsibility to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from STIs and, if you have one, to prevent the spread. Practicing safe sex is essential but, if you contract an incurable STI, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options to manage and prevent outbreaks.
Treatment Options for Incurable STIs
Though certain STIs like Hepatitis B and HPV cannot be cured, they can be medically managed. Identifying an STI early is essential for getting the disease under control and prompt treatment can help reduce the frequency or severity of outbreaks over time.
Here are the best treatment options for the top 4 incurable STIs:
- Hepatitis B: Antiviral medications like entecavir (Baraclude®), tenofovir (Viread®), and lamivudine (Epivir®) can help fight the virus and prevent liver damage.
- HIV: Antiretroviral medications like delavirdine (Rescriptor®), doravirine (Pifeltro®), and efavirenz (Sustiva®) can help reduce the viral load by preventing the virus from multiplying.
- Herpes: Antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax®), famciclovir (Famvir®), and valacyclovir (Valtrex®) can help decrease the frequency or length of outbreaks.
- HPV: Medications like trichloroacetic acid or imiquimod cream can be used to treat symptoms including genital warts.
The best way to protect yourself against STIs is to arm yourself with knowledge of what they are and how they spread. With April being STD Awareness Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to educate yourself and others about the ways in which STIs can be transmitted and how to prevent them.
Written by: Amelia Ma
Amelia Ma is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience from Burlingame, California. She enjoys writing articles for professionals that are interested in self-improvement, health, and wellness.