GYT — It’s National STD Awareness Month

April is National STD Awareness Month, an annual observance to call attention to the impact of sexually transmitted diseases and to promote STD testing across the United States.

You may not think you’re affected by STDs but we all are in some way or other.

Every year, STDs cost the U.S. health care system $17 billion — and they cost affected individuals even more in immediate and long-term health consequences.

The unfortunate truth is that young people are those most affected by STDs. Nationally, 1 in 2 sexually active young people ages 15-24 will contract an STD. Most won’t even know they have done so. And although Maine’s STD rate is far below the national average, young people in our state are the age group most likely to contract an STD.  According to the Maine CDC, in the year 2010 young people ages 15-24 accounted for 70% of all reported chlamydia infections and 52% of reported cases of gonorrhea.

As in the rest of the country, Maine’s rate of chlamydia, a preventable and treatable STD, is especially high. Chlamydia often has no symptoms, and when left undiagnosed and untreated can cause serious health consequences, including infertility in women.

What is the FPA doing about all this? For starters, all family planning health centers in Maine offer free or low-cost STD testing for our patients. In recent years, we’ve made an effort to increase the number of young people getting tested by making it a normal part of every family planning visit. Whether a sexually active patient sees us for an annual exam, a pregnancy test or a birth control method check, STD testing is offered and encouraged. Because a chlamydia infection often has no symptoms, regular testing is extremely important. In 2011, the family planning system in Maine provided over 13,000 chlamydia tests and over 12,000 gonorrhea tests to our patients.

The FPA also provides ongoing training, technical support, and professional development for sexuality education teachers who work with young people in schools and youth-serving organizations throughout Maine. Our website provides information for parents and families. And we advocate for continued access to sexual health care for all Mainers, especially for young people.

Wondering what you can do? One good place to start is to learn more about STDs and their impact.

If you want to help share the word about National STD Awareness Month, GYT: Get Yourself Tested is the way to go. Launched in 2009, this online campaign encourages young people to get tested for STDs and to discuss the issue with their health care provider.  Sponsored by MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation, GYT has some terrific online resources for young people and the adults who care about them.

Check out the GYT website, post a link to it on your Facebook page, send a few tweets to your Twitter followers, talk it up face-to-face with family and friends. There’s something each of us can do to help others understand the importance of talking about and getting tested for STDs.

What will you do for National STD Awareness Month?

~ Nancy

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