Danae Young, a women’s health nurse practitioner, diagnoses someone with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) about once a week. It’s always traumatizing news—causing patients to feel everything from fear to confusion to embarrassment.
While difficult, those conversations are necessary for the health of Young’s patients at Hancock OB/GYN because they’re a big step forward in the process of treating or curing the infections.
“I think it’s important that patients know we don’t judge them. It doesn’t matter what they’re coming in for—we’re here to take care of them. That’s our job,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many patients apologize for coming to see me, but there is no judgment on my part. I’m just honored to be a part of their care.”
With that in mind, we asked her a few questions about STDs, the risks they pose, and how they’re treated.
Q: How do people get STDs?
A: The only way to get an STD is by having sex with someobody who has an infection. You can’t get an STD from a toilet seat or shaking somebody’s hand.
Q: How common are STDs?
A: Very common. In Hancock County, I find that patients don’t necessarily think about it as often as they do in urban areas, or maybe they don’t think it’s an issue here. But it is.
Q: What’s the most important thing people should know about STDs?
A: A lot of times they are asymptomatic, so people don’t know they have them. That’s the reason I encourage patients to screen annually for them.
Q: Is there an age group that’s at a higher risk?
A: I encourage my patients who are 25 and younger to have annual screenings because people in that age range are more likely to have multiple sex partners.
Q: Are STD tests expensive?
A: It depends on the patient’s insurance coverage. But I consider them preventative measures in my communication with insurance companies, so the chances of them being covered at 100% are higher.
Q: What are some of the most common STDs?
A: The most common bacterial STDs we see are chlamydia and gonorrhea. The most common viral STDs are HPV (human papillomavirus) and herpes.
Q: How are they treated?
A: The bacterial STDs, chlamydia and gonorrhea, are easy. We give antibiotics for them and they clear up, but we always schedule a follow-up appointment to make sure they’re gone. Viruses, including HPV and herpes, tend to stay in our bodies long term, and when our immune system is compromised, they can reemerge. So there are different ways we manage and treat the viral STDs, but we always tell people to live a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep. That will strengthen their immune systems.
Q: How can people prevent these infections?
A: Condoms work well, although they are not 100% effective—just like they are not 100% effective with pregnancy prevention. Limiting your number of sexual partners is important because the more exposure you have, the more likely you are to transmit an infection or get one. And just having open and honest conversations with your partner is important so you both can make informed decisions.
Q: And there’s a vaccine for HPV, correct?
A: Yes! Both women and men can get the vaccine, and it’s recommended for both because HPV is completely asymptomatic and nearly 80 percent of the population has come into contact with it. But the idea is to give people the vaccine before they become sexually active. A lot of pediatricians and family doctors are vaccinating people in their early adolescence, but the vaccine is approved for older people and people who have already been sexually active now, too.
Q: Speaking of HPV, isn’t it one of the most dangerous viruses?
A: HPV, which is incurable, is the cause of most cervical cancer cases. But we watch women’s pap tests over time, and if we see the cells are turning into cancer, we remove them.
Q: HIV is also dangerous and can even be deadly. What are the updates about treatments for that virus?
A: There are a lot of great treatment options now. There isn’t a cure, but with proper medical care, it can be controlled and become practically impossible to pass on to new sexual partners.
Q: Should patients who are diagnosed with STDs tell their partners?
A: Yes. Anyone they’ve had sexual contact with should be tested and treated, so the infection doesn’t continue to be passed on. And if you have herpes, you should discuss that with all of your partners going forward. Those are really hard conversations.
Q: If you decide to be sexually active with a new partner, what’s the healthiest way to go about it?
A: It’s a good idea for both partners to get tested for STDs prior to engaging in sexual activity.
Q: What’s the first step for someone who might have been exposed to an STD and wants to get help?
A: Make an appointment with your doctor.
And when you call, you can be sure our women’s health experts are always prepared to have open, honest, communication with patients—no matter what the topic. So if you have a question about anything related to reproductive health, learn more about us at HancockRegional.org/women.