By William Sallette, Tripler Army Medical CenterApril 3, 2017
HONOULU -- (April 3rd, 2017) April is Sexually Transmitted Infection awareness month and Tripler Army Medical Center, to include US Army -Schofield Barracks Army Public Health Nursing, are making major strides to draw awareness and prevent some of these problems in Hawaii.
Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs, now known as sexually transmitted infections, or STI's, affect people of all ages, backgrounds and from all walks of life. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new cases each year, about half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years.
Why the change? The concept of "disease," as in "STD", suggests a clear medical problem. But several of the most common STIs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected. Many have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked.
According to Army Public Health Nursing, under the Department of Preventive Medicine, the most commonly treated STI's here in Hawaii are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Syphilis, with Chlamydia and HPV being the most prevalent. These STI's can cause discolored or clear genital discharge, bleeding, infertility, neurological disorders if left untreated, and in some cases there are no symptoms present at all.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are two of the most common curable bacterial STI's. They are transmitted through infected secretions or fluids during unprotected sexual encounters (vaginal, oral, anal sex and sharing sex toys).
The bacteria or virus can also travel from the vaginal/penile area to the anus or rectum while wiping with toilet paper and can be transferred on fingers to other parts of the body (such as the eyes). One example is a mother who can transmit infection or a virus to her newborn through a vaginal delivery.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are similar and may include burning when urinating, abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, painfully swollen testicles, or vaginal bleeding between periods. An STI acquired through rectal intercourse may cause anal itching, soreness, discharge, bleeding and painful bowel movements. Often times they can be mistaken for a urinary infection and symptoms might not show up for weeks after contracting the infection. Unfortunately, many times individuals who are positive with an STI don't even know it because they have no symptoms at all, and therefore do not seek treatment and unknowingly spread it to others.
Contrary to many misconceptions, these STI's are not contracted through casual contact, (non-French) kissing, handshakes, sharing baths, towels or toilet seats.
Testing for STI's is as simple as a blood and urine test. In some cases a swab or scrapping of an area with a lesion may be necessary and is the most reliable manner of testing.
The APHN STI screening, tracing and council have made significant strides to improve access to care and testing for STI's.
"The APHN has created STI Walk-In hours Monday - Thursday, 0830-1130," said Maj. Veronica B. McMorris, Army Public Health Nursing Officer in Charge at the Schofield Barracks Health Clinic. "STI Walk-In hours were implemented to increase access to care, facilitate and support service member needs where the service member has a relaxed and informal access to receive care for STI's. Soldiers commonly had to go to sick call where their peers may judge them. This clinic gives the Soldiers and family members the opportunity to receive care without having the judgments from their leaders and peers."
Along with making access of care more private and readily available for the Soldiers and family members, the APHN has also begun testing Soldiers as soon as they arrive to the island.
"We have also begun testing while Soldiers are in-processing," said McMorris. "We want to ensure that Soldiers are healthy and ready to support the mission"
Luckily, treatment of STI's can be easily treated with antibiotics, depending on the diagnosis. There are certain STI's that are non-curable such as HIV, Herpes, and HPV, but they are manageable with appropriate medications. Both partners should be treated and abstain from sex for a period of 7-10 days after treatment, and should be re-tested within 90 days as a follow up.
There are many methods to prevent falling prey to STI's:
• Abstaining from sex (vaginal, oral and anal) or limiting your sex partners.
• Always use condoms during intercourse from the very beginning until the last skin contact.
• Try to be monogamous and make sure your sexual partners are tested for sexually transmitted diseases prior to engaging in sexual intercourse.
• Avoid water-based spermicides like nonoxynol-9 since they are not effective in prevention of pregnancy or disease and may cause irritation
• Get tested regularly if you are sexually active; no matter if you have one or multiple partners.
If you have any questions regarding STI's and prevention please contact your primary care manager for an appointment at 808-433-2778 or you can inquire at the Schofield Barracks health clinic during the STI walk-in hours.