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STI spells danger

Some health issues are easy to talk about—and some aren't. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are nothing we like to put on the table.

Still, knowing about STIs is important. According to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), more than half of all people will have an STI at some point in their lifetime.

Young people are especially at risk. The ASHA reports that each year, one in four teens gets an STI. And one in two sexually active people will have an STI by age 25.

The risk in Montgomery

There's more cause for concern in our area. One report, based on cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, called Montgomery the most sexually diseased city in the U.S.

These illnesses raise the risk of reproductive health problems, including infertility. They also increase the risk for acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And without treatment, that can be deadly.

It's important to take the report on Montgomery with a grain of salt, says Michael Murphree, CEO of Medical AIDS Outreach of Alabama. "A lot of patients come here for their medical care when they actually may be living in other counties."

Even so, rates of STIs in the area are high.

Education is key

Part of the challenge with STIs is that people can have them—and spread them—without knowing it. Several of the most common infections produce no signs or symptoms. And it's estimated that as many as one-quarter of people who are HIV-positive don't know it.

The key to fighting STIs is education, according to Murphree.

"Unless we get information to people, behaviors will not change," he says. What's more, that information must be passed on to young people.

"Parents need to be educated with good information, and then they need to be comfortable enough to share it with their kids."

Stay safe

The ASHA offers these tips to reduce the risk of contracting STIs:

Get tested. If you've been sexually active, before having sex in a new relationship, you and your partner should be screened for STIs. Because some infections aren't detectable through screening for weeks, ask your doctor when to be tested.

Murphree recommends annual HIV screening.

"That way you know one way or the other and treatment can be started early if necessary," he says. "Then you can live long and healthy."

Use protection. Barriers, such as condoms, lower the risk of STIs.

Communicate. Talk with your partner and your doctor about STIs and your sexual health.

Stay faithful. If you choose to have sex, doing so with just one partner may limit exposure to STIs. However, be aware that if either partner has had sex with someone previously, there is a risk.

Avoid alcohol and recreational drug use. Both can impair judgement and increase STI risk.

Learn more

To learn more about STIs, getting tested and talking with your kids, start here:

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