Dr. Wood: STDs on the rise in Thurston County

Condoms are a barrier method of birth control that can prevent the spread of infection during intercourse.
Condoms are a barrier method of birth control that can prevent the spread of infection during intercourse. Olympian file photo

Here in Thurston County, like in the rest of the state, some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, creating serious health effects for those who become infected, their partners, and their unborn children.

There are many forms of sexually transmitted diseases, including viral, bacterial and fungal infections. Among the bacterial infections causing concern are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Syphilis includes congenital syphilis, which is spread to an unborn baby during pregnancy.

All of these infections can be prevented. Some easy ways to reduce your risk of getting them include:

  • Abstaining from sex or reducing your number of sexual partners.
  • Practicing safer sex by using condoms. Condoms are a barrier method of birth control that can prevent the spread of infection during intercourse. Condoms are available for free from Planned Parenthood, as well as from the Thurston County Syringe Exchange.
  • Sexually transmitted infections can spread through genital, oral and anal sex. The use of condoms and dental dams (a thin square of silicone or latex that can be purchased online or generally where safe sex supplies are sold) can prevent the spread of infection.

Communication is a key part of prevention. Knowing your partner’s sexual history, whether they’ve been tested for STDs, and whether they are having sex with other people is vital knowledge that can help protect your health. For parents, having “the talk” with your children about how they can protect themselves is worth the discomfort — and it’s worth repeating.

If you’re sexually active, even if it’s exclusively oral sex, you and your partner or partners should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases at least once a year. This is particularly important if you have a new sexual partner.

Discussing your sexual activity with your health care provider also is important to make sure that you are getting the proper tests. Having a sexually transmitted infection does not necessarily mean you will have symptoms. In other words, you may not realize there’s a problem until you get tested.

In some cases, discovering an infection in its early stages can be vital to preventing serious damage to your health. It is extremely important for pregnant woman to be tested for STDs to prevent possible transmission to their unborn children. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can all be treated with antibiotics.

If sexually transmitted diseases are untreated, they can lead to serious consequences. Chlamydia or gonorrhea can increase your risk for HIV infection and can lead to other medical problems. Research suggests chlamydia, if untreated, can increase your risk for human papilloma virus infection (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer. There is a vaccine available to protect against HPV infection. Because HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer, the vaccination is recommended for both girls and boys at 9 to 11 years old.

There also are serious outcomes from syphilis infection. If not treated, syphilis can cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs, and can even cause blindness and death. For pregnant women, syphilis infection can lead to miscarriage, birth defects and stillbirth.

The state Department of Health, along with local public health departments, health care providers, clinics, and local organizations all work together to help prevent STDs. These organizations monitor STD outbreaks, and work to control the spread of these diseases by providing testing, education and treatment to affected people, as well as to their partners. Local public health agencies are working to strengthen their capacity to investigate, track and treat cases of sexually transmitted disease, but we can all take simple steps to protect our sexual health and prevent the spread of STDs.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.