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FOR RELEASE: April 17, 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

April is STD Awareness Month

You may have heard about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But there are several lesser known sexually transmitted diseases that also affect the health of thousands of Oklahomans each year.

Of concern to public health officials is that a number of people, especially women, may be infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and have no symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they may be confused with those caused by other diseases that are not transmitted through sexual contact. STDs can still be transmitted from person to person, even if there are no symptoms.

April is National STD Awareness Month. In an effort to provide the public with more information about STDs, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) offers the following descriptions of the most common STDs affecting Oklahomans:

  • Syphilis – This STD is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. This painless, open sore marks the primary stage of syphilis and occurs mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, and rectum or on the lips and in the mouth. If untreated, the syphilis infection will progress to a short-lived rash and eventually cause damage to the heart and central nervous system. The full course of the disease can take years. Penicillin remains the most effective drug to treat persons with syphilis. There were 193 cases of early syphilis reported in Oklahoma in 2006. 
  • Chlamydia – This common STD can damage a woman's reproductive organs. Even though symptoms of chlamydia are usually mild or absent, serious complications of chlamydial infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, can silently cause irreversible damage, including infertility, before a woman ever recognizes a problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than four million new cases of chlamydia occur each year. Chlamydial infection can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact with an infected partner. A pregnant woman may pass the infection to her newborn during delivery.  The annual cost of chlamydial infection is estimated to exceed $2 billion. The highest rates of chlamydial infection are found in adolescents 15 to 19 years of age. Azithromycin is the most effective and economical drug to treat chlamydia. There were 12,812 cases of chlamydia reported in Oklahoma in 2006.
  • Genital herpes – This contagious viral infection affects an estimated one out of four Americans. The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, and both can cause genital herpes. HSV type 1 most commonly causes sores on the lips (known as fever blisters or cold sores), but it can cause genital infections as well. HSV type 2 most often causes genital sores, but it also can infect the mouth.  The virus remains in the body for life, causing periodic symptoms in some people. 
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – HPV is the most common cause of STDs in the world. Experts estimate that as many as 24 million Americans are infected with HPV, and the frequency of infection and disease appears to be increasing. About one-third of the HPV types are spread through sexual contact and live only in genital tissue. Low-risk types of HPV cause genital warts, the most recognizable sign of genital HPV infection. Other high-risk types of HPV cause cervical cancer and other genital cancers. Like many sexually transmitted organisms, HPV usually causes an infection that does not have visible symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine Gardasil®, which is the first vaccine to protect against four HPV types that together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.  Many health care providers are offering this three-dose vaccine, which is also available at some local county health departments through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, a public-purchased vaccine program that provides immunizations at no cost to eligible children. The vaccination is available on a voluntary basis with parental consent to females aged 9 to 18 years who qualify for the VFC program. Eligible children include those who have no health insurance or are underinsured, are Medicaid-eligible, or are American Indian or Alaska Native.

For more information about the prevention and treatment of STDs, contact your local health care provider or county health department, or contact Janet Wilson, RN, OSDH HIV/STD Service, (405) 271-4636, or visit this Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm.

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