Time and again, we have always reminded people of the dire consequences of untreated STDs. According to data released by Singapore’s Department of STI Control (DSC) in 2018, the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to occur in the country are chlamydia (2,719 cases), gonorrhea (2,051 cases) and syphilis (1,441 cases). As of the end of 2020, the Ministry of Health (MoH) stated that a total of 8,879 Singapore residents are living with HIV. These facts depict how important sex education is, especially backed with statistics detailing that the proportion of 10 to 19-year-olds with STDs in Singapore has been consistently growing between 2014 to 2016.
STIs or STDs are a serious problem every country has to deal with and combat. Some STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis happen due to bacteria and are curable. However, several sexual diseases are caused by viruses and cannot be cured. These diseases include hepatitis B, herpes, HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV). Although they are incurable, people living with them can still access the correct treatment to lead long and fruitful lives. Owing to the advancement in health, some STDs are preventable with the help of vaccination. In this article, we will discuss 3 STDs which can be averted by getting vaccinated.
The most effective and foolproof way to ward off STDs in the first place is by practicing abstinence. Refraining yourself from engaging in any sexual activities is the surest step you can take to avoid contracting any sexual disease. Another effective form of STD prevention is the use of condoms. When used consistently, condoms can protect both males and females from being exposed to STDs. However, it is important to remember that condoms do not fully eliminate the risks of getting STDs since some sexual diseases can spread through skin-to-skin contact. The final step a person can take to better shield themselves from STDs is to get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe, potent and effective. Up to today, only HPV, hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a group of viruses. More than 100 varieties of HPV are found and 40 of them are transmitted through sexual activities and infect the genitals, mouth and throat. Every sexually active individual is at risk for contracting HPV. In fact, this sexual disease is the most common in the US with 13 million new infections taking place each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most HPV cases will go away on their own and clear up within 2 years. High-risk HPV strains, namely type 16 and type 18, are the culprits of cervical cancer. On the other hand, type 6 and 11 are behind 90% of genital warts.
When given in the recommended age groups, HPV vaccines are proven safe and effective. Both boys and girls should get vaccinated at age 11 or 12. Normally, people take two doses of HPV vaccines with the second dose administered 6 to 24 months after the first dose. People who are yet to be fully vaccinated after the age of 26 should also consider getting the shot. Although vaccination is not recommended for people older than 26 years old, adults between the age of 27 and 45 who are not vaccinated may ultimately decide to take it after consulting their healthcare providers. Getting vaccinated in this age group provides less benefits. The first HPV vaccine which was the first-generation Gardasil® was approved in 2006 by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Today, healthcare providers administer several types of HPV vaccines:
- Gardasil: tackles types 6, 11, 16 and 18
- Cervarix: tackles types 16 and 18
- Gardasil 9: tackles types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58
Hepatitis A vaccine
Hepatitis A is discovered in infected people’s blood and stool. This virus can be spread through person-to-person contact (sexual contact, close contact with infected people and using drugs) and through ingesting contaminated food or drink. Not every individual who has hepatitis A shows symptoms, but some common ones include fever, jaundice, vomiting, and the loss of appetite. Symptoms are more likely to occur in adults than children.
The best prevention is through vaccination. More than one shot is needed to ensure the effectiveness. Hepatitis A vaccine is usually given to children aged 12 to 23 months and if they have yet to receive this vaccine, they should go for “catch up” vaccination as children or adolescents (between the ages of 2 to 18). There are two known types of hepatitis A vaccine. The first type is referred to as the single-dose vaccine which is given in two shots (6 months apart). These two shots ensure long-term protection against hepatitis A. The second vaccine prevents both hepatitis A and B and is administered to people older than 18 years old as three shots in the course of 6 months. These three shots have to be taken to avert hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Two most popular vaccines for hepatitis A are Havrix® and Vaqta® while Twinrix is the one used to prevent both hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis B vaccine
A liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis B is a disease spread when blood, semen or other body fluids of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person. Hepatitis B can be transmitted through sexual activities, sharing injecting equipment or during childbirth (from mother to baby). Some common symptoms of hepatitis B are jaundice, nausea and stomach pain. Oftentimes, most cases of hepatitis B are short-term and mild. In other cases, however, hepatitis B can lead to serious and lifelong health problems. Hepatitis B, when contracted as adults, seldom leads to a chronic infection while 90% of infants with hepatitis B most likely develop one.
Hepatitis B vaccine is usually administered as 2, 3 or 4 shots. Infants should receive and complete this series of vaccinations when they are 6 to 18 months old. This step is imperative to ward off long-term illness in infants. Adolescents who are younger than 19 years old who have yet to get vaccinated are also encouraged to take the shots. The same encouragement and recommendation also apply for adults who are not vaccinated yet. Vaccine for hepatitis B can be administered alone or combined with other vaccines to prevent more than one disease. This vaccine can be given together with other vaccines. Engerix-B® and Recombivax HB® are two vaccines approved to be given at birth while Heplisav-B® can only be given to people who are older than 18.
The second best time to get STD testing is today. Knowing the full status of your sexual health is important to ensure your overall well being. Shim Clinic is always ready to help you with accurate STD screening and diagnosis. We also provide STD treatment and HIV prevention methods such as HIV PEP and HIV PrEP.