FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are some 20 million new sexually transmitted infections each year — about half of which occur among adolescents and young adults between 15 and 24 years old.
The term sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is often used interchangeably with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but not all infections will result in the development of a sexual transmitted disease.
The high incidence of STIs in the general population as well as within military populations suggests many are at risk of exposure to STIs, underscoring the need for prevention. Within the military, the infection rates for Chlamydia are greater than those in the civilian population, according Fort Belvoir Community Hospital Public Health Nursing. Last year, Belvoir hospital treated 210 cases of Chlamydia.
“The military has a complex structure for STI transmission,” said Jennifer Ferraro, Public Health Nursing. “Its population is made up of a higher risk demographic – the average age demographic is less than 35 years. Youth bear a disproportionate share of STIs. The military population is also very mobile, which allows for easy spread of infections.”
One important advantage the military population has is easy access to free care and a well-resourced public health community. All STIs are preventable and significant reductions in new infections are very possible, Ferraro said. Education and screening for STIs is essential in preventing transmission and the long-term health consequences.
“Arming yourself with basic information about STIs is an effective method in which individuals can protect themselves and their sexual partners,” Ferraro said. “When someone doesn’t understand the risk of all their sexual activities – and their knowledge of STIs is limited – it’s easy for them to have the mindset of, ‘It won’t happen to me.’”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one of the most important social factors contributing to the spread of STIs in the United States is the stigma and the general discomfort of discussing intimate aspects of life, especially those related to sex. If someone is embarrassed to talk with their sexual partners or their health care provider about STIs, they are putting themselves at risk, Ferraro said.
“Another important misconception is you will know if you have an STI,” Ferraro said. The reality is, “you can’t tell if a person is infected because many STIs have no symptoms. But STIs can still be passed from person to person even if there are no symptoms.”
Other effective strategies for reducing STI risk include reducing someone’s number of sexual partners; being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner; consistent and correct use of condoms; and having open, honest conversations with one’s sexual partners.
Screening for, and early diagnoses of, STIs are essential in preventing transmission and their long-term health consequences
For more information, contact Jennifer Ferraro, Public Health Nursing, at (571) 231-2046.
Kristin Ellis, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital Public Affairs Office