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The US STI Epidemic: What You Need to Know

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major public health problem in the United States. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2021, jumping by 7% in one year. These are the highest numbers ever recorded, and they show no signs of slowing down.

STIs can have serious health consequences, such as infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain, pregnancy complications, and increased risk of HIV infection. Some STIs, such as syphilis, can also cause severe damage to the brain, heart, and other organs, and even death. In 2021, there were 220 stillbirths and infant deaths due to congenital syphilis, a preventable tragedy that rose by an alarming 32%.

STIs are not only a health issue, but also a social and economic one. They affect people of all ages, genders, races, and sexual orientations, but some groups are more vulnerable than others. STIs disproportionately affect young people under 25, gay and bisexual men, and racial and ethnic minorities, who often face barriers to access quality sexual health care and prevention services. STIs also cost the US health care system billions of dollars every year in direct medical expenses and indirect costs, such as lost productivity and social stigma.

The US STI epidemic is a complex and multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and coordinated response from various sectors and stakeholders. The CDC is calling for more involvement and innovation from local, health care, industry, and public health groups to reverse this trend and protect the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Some of the strategies that the CDC recommends include:

  • Rebuilding, sustaining, and expanding local public health services, especially efforts to offer STI testing and treatment programs that respond to the needs of those most affected.
  • Making STI testing and treatment more accessible, including through the development and approval of point-of-care rapid tests and self-tests, and by expanding ownership for STI testing and treatment to more organizations and settings.
  • Continuing to advance scientific research and explore new interventions, such as vaccines or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) strategies to prevent bacterial STIs.

In addition to these efforts, individuals can also play a vital role in preventing and controlling STIs. Here are some of the most common questions and answers about STIs and what you can do to protect yourself and your partners.


What are the most common STIs in the US?

The most common STIs in the US are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, which are caused by bacteria and can be cured with antibiotics if detected and treated early. However, many people with these STIs do not have any symptoms or may have mild ones that are easily overlooked. Therefore, it is important to get tested regularly and seek treatment as soon as possible if you test positive or have been exposed to someone who has an STI.

Other common STIs in the US include genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), trichomoniasis, and HIV, which are caused by viruses and cannot be cured, but can be managed with medication and other interventions. Some of these STIs can also cause cancer, such as HPV, which is linked to cervical, anal, and oral cancers.

How can I get tested for STIs?

The only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to get tested. You can get tested at your doctor’s office, a clinic, a health department, or a community-based organization that offers STI testing services. You can also order a home test kit online or from a pharmacy, which allows you to collect a sample and send it to a lab for analysis. However, home tests may not be as accurate or reliable as tests done by a health care provider, and they may not cover all the STIs that you need to test for.

The type of test that you need depends on the STI that you want to check for, your sexual history, and your symptoms. Some tests require a urine sample, a blood sample, a swab from your genitals, mouth, or anus, or a physical exam. Some tests can give you results in minutes, while others may take days or weeks. Your health care provider can help you decide which tests are best for you and how often you should get tested.

How can I prevent STIs?

The best way to prevent STIs is to abstain from sex or to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is free of STIs. However, if you are sexually active with more than one partner, or if you are not sure about your partner’s STI status, you can reduce your risk of getting or transmitting STIs by following these steps:

  • Use condoms correctly and consistently every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms can prevent the contact of bodily fluids and skin that can transmit STIs. However, condoms are not 100% effective, and they may not cover all the areas that are infected or exposed to STIs. Therefore, condoms should be used along with other prevention methods, such as testing and treatment.
  • Get vaccinated for STIs that have vaccines, such as HPV and hepatitis B. Vaccines can protect you from getting infected or developing complications from these STIs. However, vaccines are not available for all STIs, and they may not work for everyone. Therefore, vaccines should not replace other prevention methods, such as condoms and testing.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners and avoid having sex with people who have multiple partners or who have signs or symptoms of STIs. Having fewer partners reduces your chances of being exposed to STIs. However, you cannot tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them or by their behavior. Therefore, you should always ask your partner about their STI status and testing history, and share yours as well.
  • Get tested and treated for STIs regularly and encourage your partner(s) to do the same. Testing and treatment can help you find out if you have an STI and get rid of it before it causes more harm to you or your partner(s). However, testing and treatment are not foolproof, and they may not prevent you from getting reinfected or infecting someone else. Therefore, you should always follow up with your health care provider and follow their instructions on how to take your medication and when to get retested.

What should I do if I have an STI or think I have been exposed to one?

If you have an STI or think you have been exposed to one, you should not panic, but you should take action as soon as possible. Here are some steps that you should follow:

  • See a health care provider right away and get tested and treated for the STI that you have or may have. Do not delay or skip your treatment, as this can make the STI worse or harder to cure. Follow your provider’s instructions on how to take your medication and when to get retested. Do not stop taking your medication until you finish the prescribed course, even if you feel better or have no symptoms. Do not share your medication with anyone else, as this can cause resistance or side effects.
  • Avoid having sex until you and your partner(s) have completed your treatment and have been cleared by your provider. Having sex while you have an STI or are being treated for one can spread the infection to your partner(s) or reinfect yourself. Wait until your provider tells you that it is safe to resume sexual activity, and use condoms when you do.
  • Notify your partner(s) that you have an STI or have been exposed to one, and urge them to get tested and treated as well. Telling your partner(s) can be hard, but it is the responsible and respectful thing to do. It can also help you and your partner(s) prevent further complications and transmission of the STI. You can tell your partner(s) in person, by phone, by text, or by email, or you can ask your provider or a public health worker to do it for you anonymously. Be honest and supportive, and do not blame or shame your partner(s) for the STI. Remember, anyone can get an STI, and it is not a reflection of your character or worth.
  • Seek support and care for your physical and emotional health. Having an STI can be stressful and upsetting, but you are not alone, and you can get through this. There are many resources and services that can help you cope and recover from an STI, such as counseling, support groups, hotlines, and websites. You can also talk to your friends, family, or other trusted people who can offer you support and comfort. Do not let the stigma or shame of having an STI stop you from seeking help or taking care of yourself.


STIs are a serious and growing problem in the US, but they are not inevitable or incurable. With the right information, tools, and actions, you can prevent, detect, and treat STIs, and protect yourself and your partner(s) from their harmful effects. By doing so, you can also contribute to the national effort to end the STI epidemic and improve the sexual health and well-being of millions of Americans.

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