5:00 p.m EST,
Tuesday November 19, 1996
Contact: Tammy Nunnally
(404) 639-8895

Statement from Helene Gayle, M.D., M.P.H.,
Director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention

The U.S. has made progress in STD prevention and rates of syphilis and gonorrhea have now been brought to historic lows. Yet, rates of STDs in the U.S. are still as much as 50-100 times higher than those in other industrialized nations. STDs have a tremendous impact on the health of adolescents and young adults, and their complications for woman and infants are severe and costly. For women, STDs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), potentially fatal ectopic pregnancies, infertility, and cancer of the reproductive tract. For infants infected by their mothers, STDs can result in irreversible physical deformities, mental retardation, and death.

Early detection and treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea can prevent the majority of women who are already infected from developing these serious complications. Moreover, early treatment for these and other STDs (including HIV infection in pregnant women), can prevent or reduce transmission of these infections both from infected mothers to infants and to other individuals. We must focus energy and resources to strengthen programs for early detection and treatment of STDs, including HIV. Ensuring access to STD treatment through both public clinics and private providers will be critical to reducing the disparities in STD rates among Americans. For too long, people have been turned away from needed treatment because public clinics do not have the staffing and other resources to serve all those who need care. At the same time, private health care providers do not always recognize the need to offer counseling or screening to young people who may have asymptomatic STDs.

STDs also play an important role in the sexual transmission of HIV infection. HIV clearly walks in the footsteps of other STDs. The behaviors that put people at risk for HIV, also place them at risk for over 20 other diseases that can be transmitted sexually. And we have strong scientific evidence that other STDs increase the likelihood of both becoming infected with HIV and of transmitting HIV infection to others. Our challenge is to create a synergy between approaches to STD and HIV prevention that will break these deadly ties and bring both epidemics under control.

Behavior change approaches that have proven effective in HIV prevention should be applied to prevent all STDs, and STD treatment must clearly play a key role in HIV prevention. The challenge will be for communities to strengthen both approaches with limited resources.

There are no quick fixes to end the toll of STDs. Our future success depends on a willingness to talk directly about conditions that were once only whispered about, to move these diseases into the forefront of discussion on the individual, community, and societal levels, and to commit and sustain the resources needed to deliver the effective prevention and treatment interventions we already have.

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