Amid rising sexually transmitted diseases, officials say more sex health counseling needed

Talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during health examinations may prevent them in sexually active adolescents and at-risk young adults, according to a group of leading health officials.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) stated in their recent report “with moderate certainty that behavioral counseling interventions reduce the likelihood of acquiring STIs in sexually active adolescents and in adults at increased risk, including for example, those who have a current STI, do not use condoms, or have multiple partners, resulting in a moderate net benefit.”

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According to the task force, there are approximately 20 million new cases of bacterial or viral STIs each year in the United States, and half of the new cases occur within the 15 to 24-year-old age group. The USPSTF also reported growing concern over the rise in gonococcal, chlamydial, and syphilis infection rates throughout the country.

Talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during health examinations may prevent STI’s in sexually active adolescents and at risk young adults, according to a group of leading health officials. (iStock)

The report recommended behavioral intervention approaches including in-person counseling, telephone or text messaging support, websites, videos, and written materials to help reduce the risk of a person getting an STI.

The task force stated the most successful approaches to reducing STIs include providing information on transmission of common STIs and encouraging the person to commit to following safe sex procedures. The report also recommended evaluating the person’s risk of acquiring an STI and encourage talking about ways to practice safer sex as well as provide training in condom use.

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Shorter, less intensive counseling sessions can have a beneficial effect on reducing the acquisition of STIs and increasing condom use, according to the report. Previously established guidelines in 2014 recommended group counseling interventions with significant contact times (defined as more than 120 minutes) for several sessions which had beneficial effects on prevention of STIs.

One of the noted concerns is that sexually transmitted infections are often asymptomatic, which results in a delayed diagnosis and treatment. This can lead to the transmission of STIs unknowingly to others as well as serious consequences that include infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer, and AIDS, according to the results. It also discussed the dangers of STIs during pregnancy including miscarriage.

The task force suggested in the report that “primary care clinicians can deliver in-person behavioral counseling interventions, refer patients to behavioral counseling interventions in other settings, or inform patients about media-based interventions.”