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Massachusetts Medical Society's
Physician Focus

February 2011

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 health consequences.

  • 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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Centers for Disease Control

American Social Health Association


Maria Talks


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Sexually Transmitted Diseases PSA

From left: John Fromson, M.D., Brenda Cole; Katherine Hsu, M.D.
hi-res photo
promo slide

It’s 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 treatment.

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 health.”

Watch the accompanying video for the full discussion.

MMS/Richard Gulla