Sexually transmitted infections, referred to as STI-s, are not commonly discussed among individuals outside of the healthcare field. Despite its absence from regular conversation outside of health-care professionals, STI-s remain a prevalent health issue of importance for many young North Dakotans.
STI-s are mandatory reportable conditions to the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH). The NDDoH monitors data to describe the populations affected by STI-s. Infection rates for the state of North Dakota have followed an increasing trend over the last three years. While the reasons for the rise in numbers are unclear, it is clear that many North Dakota citizens, primarily those ranging from the ages of 15 to 24 years of age, are adversely affected by these infections.
Several complications can result from untreated infections including sterility in men and women, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy in women, to name a few. Other complications during pregnancy can occur; therefore prenatal care and screening for STI-s is recommended for all pregnant women.
Consideration should be given to the fact that many STI-s are asymptomatic, meaning infected individuals have no symptoms, may not know they are infected, and could potentially pass the disease on to a sexual partner. Many behaviors can put a person at a greater risk for exposure to an STI. Some of these behaviors include multiple sexual partners, how and where sexual partners are encountered, as well as the types of sex in which one participates. The North Dakota Department of Health developed an anonymous and confidential website, www.ndhealth.gov/knowyourrisk, to help individuals determine their risks for exposure to HIV, STIs, and viral hepatitis. It is a helpful tool in identifying behaviors and practices putting a person at risk.
Prevention is the key to avoiding infection and the possibility of long-term ramifications from an STI. The only sure way to avoid a sexual disease is to abstain from sexual activity. If one chooses to be sexually active, maintaining a monogamous relationship with a partner who is known to be free of infection will reduce the risk of contracting an STI. Latex condoms may be effective at reducing the risk of some STI-s if used correctly and every time during sexual intercourse. Dental dams provide protection during oral sex. More information on STI prevention, symptoms, and treatment can be found at www.ndhealth.gov/STD/About/Std.html or www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm. If you suspect you may have been exposed to an STI you should make an appointment with your health-care provider for testing and treatment.
The goal of STI prevention is to decrease the number of individuals infected with STI-s by timely diagnosis and treatment of patients and their sexual partners, increasing awareness and knowledge of STI-s and their complications, and reducing behaviors that place people at risk. Education can only go so far. Choosing to be safe and taking actions to support that choice come down to each individual, the choice is yours. Choose to be informed and choose to be safe.
Regional Field Epidemiologist
North Dakota Department of Health
Division of Disease Control