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WHO: Stigma, Shame Help Spread STDs

FILE - A red ribbon is put on the sleeves of a man by his friend to show support for people living with HIV during a program to raise awareness about AIDS on World AIDS Day in Kathmandu, Dec. 1, 2013.

A new study finds more than one million people worldwide are newly infected every day with a curable sexually transmitted infection. Data released by the World Health Organization show venereal diseases are widely spread among men and women aged 15 to 49.

WHO reports more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis occur every year. On average, WHO says one in 25 people globally have at least one of these infections, with some having multiple infections at the same time.

Melanie Taylor, a medical epidemiologist in the Department of Reproductive health and research at WHO and lead author of the study, says these infections are treatable and curable with antibiotics. Unfortunately, she says most of these infections have no symptoms, so patients do not realize they are carriers of these diseases.

“They do not realize they are at risk and they do not go in for testing and treatment," she said. "Thus, the opportunity to transmit the infection is quite high. The opportunity to transmit the infections to their sexual partners, but also from mothers to their unborn infants is very, very high.”

WHO reports syphilis alone caused an estimated 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016, making it a leading cause of baby loss globally.

The U.N. health agency warns infections that are left untreated can lead to serious and chronic health effects including neurological and cardiovascular disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of HIV.

Taylor says venereal diseases also spread widely because of the stigma and shame associated with them. She says people are reluctant to speak openly about their sexual history, so infections often remain hidden.

“So, we do consider this a hidden epidemic, a silent epidemic, a dangerous epidemic that is persistent globally and persistent within populations, families and relationships and quite damaging to all,” she said.

WHO says sexually transmitted infections are mainly spread through unprotected sex. It says these diseases are preventable through safe sexual practices, including the use of condoms and sexual health education.