The Relationship Between STDs & HIV

A doctor holding two blood samples in one gloved handIf you’re like many Americans, you may not know that there’s a distinct connection between STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS).

According to recent studies, those infected with STDs are at least two to five times more likely than uninfected individuals to acquire HIV infection if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact. Similarly, if an HIV-infected individual is also infected with another STD, that person is more likely to transmit HIV via sexual contact than other HIV-infected persons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is substantial biological evidence demonstrating that the presence of other STDs increases the likelihood of both transmitting and acquiring HIV, specifically:

• Increased susceptibility. STDs appear to increase susceptibility to HIV infection by two mechanisms: Genital ulcers (e.g., syphilis, herpes or chancroid), which result in breaks in the genital tract lining or skin, creating a portal of entry for HIV, and inflammation, which are caused by genital ulcers or non-ulcerative STDs (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis), increasing the concentration of cells in genital secretions that can serve as a targets for HIV.

• Increased infectiousness. STDs also appear to increase the risk of an HIV-infected person transmitting the virus to his or her sex partner(s). Studies have shown that HIV-infected individuals who are also infected with other STDs are particularly likely to shed HIV in their genital secretions. For example, men who are infected with both gonorrhea and HIV are more than twice as likely to have HIV in their genital secretions than are those who are infected only with HIV. Moreover, the median concentration of HIV in semen can be as much as 10 times higher in men who are infected with both gonorrhea and HIV than in men infected only with HIV. The higher the concentration of HIV in semen or genital fluids, the more likely it is that HIV will be transmitted to a sex partner.

Fortunately, evidence from recent studies suggests that treating STDs may reduce HIV transmission. For example, it has been found that treating STDs in HIV-infected individuals decreases both the amount of HIV in genital secretions and how frequently HIV is found in those secretions.

Preventive measures are paramount in an effort to avoid passing on STDs and HIV. As always, abstinence is the number-one method in preventing transmission. If you are sexually active, limit the number of partners and always use condoms.

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