Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are very common among teens and young adults, and they have the potential to change a young person’s life forever. In the U.S. in the year 2013, nearly 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections occurred. About half of these infections occurred in 15-24-year-olds, even though they only represent about 25 percent of the sexually active population.1 The scientific section of this Advisory focuses on updated information on one of the STI’s, Herpes (HSV).
HSV is transmitted by skin to skin with asymptomatic shedding being very common. A person may not know they have an infection, yet they are contagious. One reason that herpes infection is so common is that there is no cure. Once people are infected, they are infected for life. Yes, certain medicines can help reduce the frequency, length and the number of outbreaks per year but the virus itself remains in the body.
A DVD produced by MI titled “Casual Sex” tells the story of an unborn baby acquiring herpes. It was noted shortly after birth with difficulty breathing and blisters on its hands. These painful blisters even with medication will recur off and on for the rest of her life. I encourage each of you to order the DVD and show it to as many young people and parents as you can. Parental influence is more important than parents think. Counseling adolescents and young adults is critical to stem the tide of transmission of STIs. Even without the infections causing long term physical disease, they can cause “Dis-ease” emotionally and spiritually.
A person who becomes infected may feel that a sexual partner has violated a trust: “The person who infected me must have known that he/she had herpes but didn’t bother to tell me.” Actually, this may or may not be true because many infected people do not know they are infected, though of course many do. Infected people must deal with the fact that they can infect any future sexual partners, including not only “hookups” but also their spouses or unborn children.
In my practice, I saw a 28 year old for her annual exam. She had a history of date rape as a freshman in college that resulted in herpes infection. She now has difficulty with relationships. She feels too ashamed to tell them about herpes (“feels dirty and doesn’t want to give it to them”). She also feels too ashamed to tell them about her rape (“feels guilty”). Her hope is to get married and have children someday, but she is hesitant to get too close to anyone because of the past history.
Lastly, let me tell you about the STD Wizard, developed by the Medical Institute with a grant from the CDC. It is an online questionnaire that is based on the most current CDC STD Treatment Guidelines. It is strictly confidential and its answers lead to a user-specific recommended course of action, the results of which persons can print out and take to their physician. I encourage everyone to take the test and tell others to do so regardless of their age. The website is www.stdwizard.org or www.stdwizard.com.