Massachusetts Medical Society's
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases are the most commonly
reported infectious diseases in the country.
More than 19 million new infections from STDs occur
every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In
Massachusetts, some 20,000 infections are reported annually.
Left untreated, STDs can lead to infertility,
increase the risk of HIV infection, and cause serious long-term
According to the Mass. Department of Public Health,
communities of color have historically been disproportionately
affected by STDs. Reported infections from chlamydia, gonorrhea,
syphilis, and HIV/AIDS are substantially higher in blacks and
Hispanics than in whites.
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a topic not often addressed in public venues, and sometimes shunned
entirely with younger populations. But sexually transmitted diseases
remain a critical public health problem. They affect all classes,
races, ethnic groups, and ages.
“It’s not an easy
subject to discuss,” said John Fromson, M.D., host of the February
edition of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society,
“but it’s part of the human condition.”
Joining Dr. Fromson as
guests on the program are two experts from the Massachusetts
Department of Public Health: Katherine Hsu, M.D., a board certified
pediatrician and Medical Director of the DPH’s STD Prevention
Bureau, and Ms. Brenda Cole, Director of the STD Prevention Bureau.
A key point patients
should remember about these conditions, says Dr. Hsu, is the
distinction between diseases
and infections. “Infectious states don’t necessarily imply that you
have symptoms of the disease. You could carry an infection, never know
you have the infection, and actually potentially transmit the
infection.” Infections, she says, do not always carry symptoms, such
as rash or itch or other visual or physical sign.
The conversation among
the three covers a range of topics, with critically important
information patients should know. Among the subjects discussed are the
following: how to get screened for infections, how public health
officials track diseases, the reporting obligations of health
providers, the relationship between physician and patient with respect
to these diseases, the department of public health’s roles and
responsibilities in safeguarding personal health information, the
steps public health officials take to stop the spread of such
diseases, and how they assist affected individuals in getting care and
The three also discuss
information on specific diseases, including their symptoms and
treatment. Among those mentioned are chlamydia, HPV (Human
Papillomavirus), syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDS.
“It’s important for
people to understand,” says Ms. Cole, “that there is care and
treatment for these diseases, that they are curable, with the
exception of HIV, which is manageable, and that it’s important to
incorporate these kinds of conversations with your doctor. Make it a
point to have conversations with your doctor about your sexual
the accompanying video for the full discussion.