Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, continue to threaten the physical and mental well-being of millions of Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates that there are nearly 20 million new infections in the United States each year, resulting in a $16 billion strain on our health care system. While the collective financial burden of STIs is enormous, individual treatment can be relatively cheap if you’re willing to do the proper research. As well as benefiting your health, treating STIs early on can save you a lot of money, as you’ll avoid developing STI-related diseases that require costly – and possibly lifelong – treatment. In this article, we’ll take a look at gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis before discussing what we can all do to help prevent STIs and where to go for the most affordable testing and treatment.
Since 1994, chlamydia has comprised the largest proportion of all STDs reported to the CDC, which reports that there were 1,422,976 new cases of chlamydia in 2012. Chlamydial infections tend to be asymptomatic, meaning they often go unnoticed and therefore untreated–which can be especially harmful to a woman’s health. In women, this can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, a major cause of tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain, all of which can negatively affect the quality of a woman’s life. What’s more, recurrent visits to the doctor for chronic pelvic pain can become very costly over time. Untreated chlamydia results in far fewer serious repercussions for men, though this shouldn’t dissuade men from seeking treatment, as they can still pass the infection on to sexual partners.
Since 2009, the United States has witnessed a 9.6% increase in the gonorrhea rate. In 2012, there were 334,826 cases of gonorrhea reported to the CDC, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed STIs. If untreated, it can cause many of the same problems as chlamydia.
Syphilis, which has four stages, is much rarer, with 15,667 cases reported to the CDC in 2012.
Unlike chlamydia and gonorrhea, there are noticeable symptoms in syphilis. Painless sores on the affected area are the most common sign of syphilis. Untreated early syphilis can cause perinatal death in up to 40% of infected pregnant women – and 80% of fetuses receive the infection in mothers who acquired syphilis in the four years leading up to pregnancy. Tertiary syphilis can also lead to paralysis, blindness, and heart disease in both men and women. Untreated syphilis can even increase your chances of contracting HIV.
The CDC asserts that the surest way to prevent STIs is to abstain from sex or to have sex only with one partner. Proper use of condoms can reduce your risk of getting STIs and maintaining good hygiene also helps. Young, sexually active individuals, however, often overlook the importance of regular STI screenings. In a study published in February 2013, the CDC found that people between the ages of 15 and 24 constitute nearly half of all new STI infections, even though they only represent 25% of the sexually active population. It is therefore especially vital for sexually active people in this age group to undergo regular STI tests – especially because many STIs don’t have symptoms. As simple urine testing becomes more readily available, men are increasingly being tested for chlamydial infection and gonorrhea. Doctors can also take a swab to collect samples for chlamydia and gonorrhea, among other STIs. Blood tests are needed to check for syphilis.
Cost of testing and treatment
The price of STI testing depends on where you live, whether you have insurance, whether you’re visiting a private or public health facility and whether that facility offers financial support. While STI prevention counseling and HIV screenings are some of many free preventive care benefits under the Affordable Care Act, the tests themselves may cost you. While some private health centers charge up to $79 for individual STI tests and $249 for comprehensive STI tests, the Florida Department of Health, for instance, charges only $45 for its comprehensive STI test. In Minnesota, on the other hand, Planned Parenthood offers STI testing and treatment at no cost or at reduced costs depending on your income. Outside of Minnesota, health centers like Planned Parenthood commonly offer testing and treatment on a sliding scale based on what you can afford. For more information about public testing locations at a health center near you, check out this link. The varying price of STI testing means makes it that much more important to call testing locations in advance to find out their prices.
Antibiotics are the most commonly used treatment for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. While the number of days you take antibiotics depends on your illness and the type of antibiotic you’re on, it’s possible that a single dose of antibiotics taken just once will cure both chlamydia and gonorrhea. Medication for gonorrhea usually costs about $17 for the single dose, while chlamydia medication costs around $10. Penicillin shots are required to treat syphilis, and, like STI testing, there isn’t one set price for that particular STI treatment.
Other costs of STIs
While the financial impact of STIs has reached astronomical heights in recent years, the indirect and intangible costs of these infections are also significant. Indirect costs refer to lost productivity and wages attributable to STIs and can place a strain on people with STIs. Getting tested once a year will save you the time of multiple hospital visits should you contract an STI and require further treatment. Intangible costs, on the other hand, are related to the pain and suffering associated with STIs, like miscarriages and infertility. Though impossible to quantify, these strains can be just as profound as the financial repercussions of STIs.
Though many of us have heard this since middle school, it’s always worth keeping in mind that practicing safe sex and getting regular STI screenings will help you to avoid the many problems associated with contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Nurse preparing shot image via Shutterstock