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Get the facts.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, 3 million teens (that's one in eight) acquire a sexually transmitted infection (STI) every year.

As the name implies, STIs are passed from partner to partner during sexual contact. Like other diseases, they are caused by bacteria and viruses, microorganisms that invade your body's cells. But unlike some common infections like colds, STIs can be serious, leading to infertility (the inability to have children) and even some forms of cancer. A few, like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to death.

That's why it's important for you to learn the facts about HIV and other STIs - so you know how to keep yourself safe.


HIV, which can infect blood and other body fluids, attacks the body's infection-busting immune cells. This attack eventually leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Without immune cells to battle bacteria and viruses, these microscopic invaders can take advantage of the body's vulnerability and spread unchecked, eventually killing people infected with HIV.

While HIV may be the most feared STI, it is not the most common. The CDC estimates that 1 million Americans are infected with HIV today. Another 40,000 Americans become infected with HIV every year. But at least 4 million Americans become infected with the bacterial STI chlamydia each year. Many of them are teens. And as many as 40 million Americans carry the human papillomavirus (HPV) (see chart on p. 12 for details).

These STIs can do serious long-term damage to your body. Some strains of HPV, for example, cause cervical cancer, which kills about 4,500 American women each year. Gonorrhea, a bacterial STI, can cause heart and joint infections, as well as infertility.

And like HIV, many of these infections have few early symptoms. That means someone who tells you they're "clean," could have an STI without knowing it (see "Janet's" story, below). Unknowingly, they could infect their partner, who can spread the disease to another partner, and so on and so on until millions of people are infected.

Moreover, some of the common STIs on our chart, including herpes and chlamydia, increase your risk of infection with HIV if you are exposed to the virus.


The good news is that, unlike many diseases, all STIs can be prevented. So it's up to you to decide whether or not you are at risk.

"The same things that protect you from AIDS, such as abstinence [not having sex] or monogamy [limiting sex to one (uninfected) partner], will protect you from every other STI," says Dr. Bob Cannon, an infectious-disease physician at the CDC.

If you do have sex, birth-control pills may prevent pregnancy says Cannon, but they offer no protection from STIs. Latex condoms, on the other hand, used properly every single time you have sex can help prevent the spread of STIs.

Still not convinced of the need to stay safe? Read about how STIs have affected the lives of the three teens featured on these pages. They've learned that protecting yourself from an STI is far easier than living with one.
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Title Annotation:includes a true or false test; how teens can protect themselves from getting sexually transmitted diseases
Author:Fairly, Peter
Publication:Science World
Date:Mar 24, 1995
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