A growing concern is the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the US within the last year.
Preliminary data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reveal 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2021 “with no signs of slowing”. Experts state that the spike in STIs over the last couple of years is likely due to the diversion of resources to combat COVID-19, delays in diagnosis, and unsafe drug and sexual behavior. Left untreated STIs not only can cause serious health issues, but also infertility in both men and women as well as pose health issues to both mothers and babies during pregnancy and childbirth.
How STIs Can Cause Female Infertility
Some infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, left untreated, can lead to female infertility. Both of these conditions can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), fallopian tube infection and scarring, damage to the ovaries and uterus, and permanent damage to the reproductive organs. Tubal infertility can result when egg and sperm cannot meet due to tubal blockage. Ectopic pregnancy can occur when a fertilized egg implants anywhere outside of the uterine cavity such as in the fallopian tube.
How STIs Can Cause Male Infertility
It is it important for men to take measures to protect themselves and their partners from STIs for health reasons but also for fertility potential. In specific circumstances, STIs can impact a man’s fertility. Epididymitis can lead to male infertility, which is an inflammation of the tube along the back of the testicles responsible for storing and transporting sperm. The resulting decline in both the quality and motility of the sperm makes conception more challenging.
How STIs Can Impact Pregnancy and the Health of Mothers and Babies
STIs cause problems during pregnancy for both mothers and unborn babies. While pregnant, mothers can pass infections such as syphilis and HIV via the placenta. Being infected with an STI during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm labor, premature membrane rupture, and low birth weight. Early birth can result in infant death as well as long-term health and developmental issues for babies. During childbirth, infections including chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, and hepatitis B can be passed on to babies. Mothers are at an increased risk of uterine infection post-childbirth.
Screening for STIs Before Fertility Treatment
Screening for STIs is important to prevent the spread, but also for those who are looking to start a family gets the treatment that they need to optimize their fertility and protect the health of both the expectant mother and unborn baby. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requires patients undergoing IVF fertility treatment including egg and sperm donors and gestational carriers to undergo a physical exam, and screening for STIs.
Many who are infected with STIs are often asymptomatic. Thus early and regular screening for STIs is important. Luckily, these infections are often highly-treatable with antibiotics. Early diagnosis and treatment can help protect your reproductive health.