- NEW YORK - It,s not just a bothersome itch or an embarrassing rash. A
sexually transmitted disease can pose very serious health risks for women,
according to research presented Monday at the American College of Obstetricians
and Gynecologists, annual meeting.
- For women "and for their sexual
partners" researchers say: Get screened and treated early for STDs.
- "Evidence is mounting that vaginal
infections experienced by millions of American women have more rapid and
damaging consequences than previously thought," James A. McGregor,
M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado
School of Medicine in Denver, told the meeting.
- * If a woman is pregnant, even a "minor"
STD such as the easily curable sexually transmitted vaginal bacterial infection
trichomonas vaginitis can increase the likelihood she will give birth prematurely,
according to a study McGregor conducted, published in this month's issue
of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- * Common sexually transmitted vaginal
bacterial infections can more than double a woman,s risk of acquiring HIV,
- * Vaginal infections can rapidly move
from a woman,s genitals to her upper reproductive tract, the latest research
indicates. "This makes a woman more vulnerable to serious health
complications such as scarring or infertility," said McGregor.
- Part of the problem, though, is that
many women underestimate their risk of getting an STD.
- America has the highest rate of STDs
in the industrialized world, with 12 to 15 million new cases a year and
at least one quarter of Americans contracting an STD during their lifetime,
according to estimates of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and the American Social Health Association.
- Each year, there are an estimated 5 million
new cases of trichomoniasis alone, the most common curable STD in young
women. Yet only 3 percent of women in a 1998 survey believe they are at
risk for any STD.
- McGregor called for routine screening
for reproductive tract infections in all pregnant women. For all sexually
active, non-pregnant women, he advocates more frequent testing and treatment
of women and their sexual partners to stop the cycle of reinfection.
- "As an urgent public health matter,
we must widen the net for testing, treatment and prevention of these STDs,"
- Controversy Swirls
- The issue of how frequently to screen
for common STDs is controversial. Some groups believe all women under
a certain age should be screened, while others recommend routine screening
only for "high-risk" women " those who have had multiple
sexual partners or sexually active adolescents.
- For example, in the case of the bacterial
STD chlamydia, which often shows no symptoms but can cause pelvic inflammatory
disease, ectopic pregnancy or infertility, ACOG recommends routine yearly
screening of high-risk women while the CDC recommends annual chlamydia
screening of all sexually active women under age 25. Johns Hopkins university
researchers recommend sexually active adolescents receive a chlamydia
screening every six months.
- The CDC believes all younger women should
be screened for this disease since the immature cervix leaves a woman particularly
vulnerable to this infection. And Johns Hopkins researchers recently found,
in a study of Baltimore inner-city girls recently published in the Journal
of the American Medical Association, that nearly 30 percent the girls tested
positive for chlamydia.
- "Even as we weigh specific screening
recommendations, we need to put this infectious disease epidemic at the
forefront of public health attention," noted Ralph W. Hale, M.D.,
ACOG executive vice president. "Women are either unaware of, or underestimate,
their risk for common infections that have serious complications."
- It's Easier Than Ever
- New tests and treatments for STDs have
made the process of getting screened and treated less painful and more
rapid, McGregor said. These advances include new urine tests and single-dose
- Nucleic acid amplification techniques
now allow urine screening for women or men without the need for a medical
exam or a blood sample.
- New drugs can be taken in a single dose,
providing a much more effective, convenient and inexpensive treatment than
previous, multiple-dose medications.
- "Before, the complicated drug regimen
could be a barrier to treatment," McGregor said. "Now we have