African-Americans continue to bear a greater burden of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. A CDC report released this week shows that, just as is the case for the HIV epidemic, African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by other STDs. Both the number of STD cases reported in 2008, and rates of all three nationally reported STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis) are highest among African-Americans. One of the most staggering statistics revealed in the report is that gonorrhea rates among blacks are now 20 times that of whites. Additionally, while blacks make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, almost half of all chlamydia and syphilis cases were among blacks.
While black men and women share the burden of STDs, black women continue to face the most severe health consequences. This is of great concern because of the potential impact on the future of our community. Untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea can rob a teenage girl or young woman of her ability to have children later in life, and untreated syphilis in pregnant women can result in infant death or cause severe physical or mental developmental disabilities.
It is vital that communities disproportionately affected by STDs, as well as their community leaders and health providers, are aware of the disparities. Testing, knowledge of infection, and treatment of those with an STD and their sex partners are critical to reducing the number of infections that occur each year. Many STDs have no symptoms, so one of the first steps for those at risk is to get tested and find out if they are infected. I encourage health care providers to routinely take a sexual health history from each of their adolescent and adult patients and follow up with appropriate counseling, vaccination, testing, and, if needed, treatment of both patients and sex partners.
There are also many actions that individuals within our community can take to prevent STD infection, including:
• Abstinence and reduction of number of sex partners: The most reliable ways to avoid infection with an STD are to abstain from sex or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
• Correct and consistent use of condoms: Consistent and correct use of the male latex condom reduces the risk of HIV and other STD transmission.
• Screening: Testing and knowledge of infection are vital to reducing the continued consequences of STDs and HIV. Though most STDs can be easily diagnosed and treated, many cases go undetected because they have no noticeable symptoms. Those at risk need to ask their providers about the need for testing, so that if they are infected, they and their sex partners can receive appropriate treatment and care to protect their health and avoid complications.
• Immunizations: Vaccines are available for the prevention of two common sexually transmitted viral infections: hepatitis B and several strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Receiving recommended hepatitis B and HPV immunizations can almost completely prevent these infections.
It is important to confront the issues that contribute to higher infection rates for African-Americans, and take action to prevent the spread of STDs. As a community and as a nation interested in protecting and enhancing the health of all of our citizens, we cannot ignore these disparities and the toll these infections can take if they are not diagnosed, treated and – ultimately – prevented.
For more information about STD prevention, including CDC's STD screening recommendations and treatment guidelines, visit www.cdc.gov/std or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.