A discussion at Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital last Thursday evening covered an important health issue that is not often talked about – sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The discussion, presented by Dr. Michelle Mon Desir, proved eye-opening.
Although the majority of STIs are curable, and all treatable, they are still extremely prevalent in society. In the US they are the most common infections reported today. A total of 15.3 million new cases are reported annually, and the reality is that one-quarter of the reported cases are from 15 to 19 year olds.
Despite this figure, the reported cases are likely to be a dramatic underestimation of the actual prevalence of STIs in society. This is partly because many STIs are asymptomatic, but also because there is a strong social stigma surrounding STIs that prevents open discussion about them, and therefore means that many cannot identify the symptoms accurately, Dr. Mon Desir said.
While parents can encourage their children to not have sex until they are older, or even married, the reality is that teenagers are still having sex, and often become infected with one kind of STI. STIs are most commonly spread from person to person during sexual contact, whether it be genital, oral or anal.
The only true way to avoid catching STIs is to practice abstinence, however, wearing a condom during all sexual interactions and only having sex with a partner who has been tested for infection can reduce your risk also, she said.
‘STIs are serious diseases that can cause sterility, blindness, deafness, insanity and death,’ said Dr. Mon Desir. ‘Many STIs are treatable, but early diagnosis is vital.’
In terms of discussion of STIs in Cayman, Dr. Mon Desir feels there is much left to be done.
‘I was hoping more people would come tonight,’ she said. ‘But this just proves there’s a big moral stigma about it. Some people even refused to be tested because they are afraid that somehow someone will get ahold of their lab results.’
The island would benefit from more information being provided to youth in high schools, both to aid in prevention of STIs and treatment. ‘I think that youth have some information but they still dismiss possible symptoms. More education would help,’ said Dr. Mon Desir.