Back to Top Skip to main content

Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in military

Some sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the military. To increase awareness, members of Team McConnell attend a briefing on STIs at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick) Some sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the military. To increase awareness, members of Team McConnell attend a briefing on STIs at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Men's Health | Women's Health

The rates of certain types of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are rising dramatically for both male and female service members, according to a recent report. These STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm similar surges for these three types of infections in the civilian population. The current high rates in the military pose challenges for more than 1.3 million DoD personnel, 84 percent of whom are men.

“We have a large number of males in the service, and the population we see normally is the 18 to 25 year olds. STI is most common in that age group,” said Norma Jean Suarez, a nurse practitioner in preventive medicine at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. She added that the men she sees often don’t know how prevalent STIs are.

STI myths (MHS graphic)
STI myths (MHS graphic)

“STIs place a significant economic strain on the U.S. and military health care systems,” said Maj. Dianne Frankel, an Air Force internal medicine physician and USU preventive medicine resident. In 2012, STIs in the Navy alone accounted for health care costs of $5.4 million.

“From a military standpoint, STIs can have a significant impact on individual readiness, which in turn impacts unit readiness, which then leads to a decrease in force health protection,” said Frankel. She added that there can be serious health consequences for untreated STIs, including, down the road, cancer in the case of genital human papillomavirus, or HPV.

But why are STIs on the rise, and why now? “There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner,” said Frankel, referring to the 2015 DoD Health-Related Behaviors Survey, known as HRBS. This report documented that one-fifth of respondents reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year, while one-third reported having sex with a new partner in the past year without use of a condom. These numbers have doubled since the last reported survey in 2011, said Frankel.

Suarez added another factor she’s been seeing: Dating apps can promote random, anonymous encounters, and when infections result, that anonymity can make partners difficult to track down. Having anonymous sex is one of the CDC’s list of behaviors that can increase risk of contracting an STI or HIV. Others include having vaginal, oral, or anal sex without a condom; having multiple sexual partners; or having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which can lower inhibitions and result in greater sexual risk-taking.

In general, STIs spread readily if precautions aren’t taken, according to Col. Amy Costello, chief of preventive medicine at the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “Chlamydia and gonorrhea are quite common; they can be transmitted vaginally, anally, or through oral-sexual contact,” she said. “Pretty much any time you have mucous membrane contact with an infected person, you have a chance of getting it.” She added that syphilis is usually spread through open sores that can be non-painful, meaning an infected person might not know the infection is present.

Not all STIs are on the rise, according to the HRBS. Rates for genital herpes simplex decreased slightly between 2010 and 2018, and HPV dropped by almost 52 percent. She credited the widespread adoption of the HPV vaccine for the dramatic decline in the rate of infection.

HIV is another STI of concern. “A lot of service members don’t understand that HIV exists on the active-duty military side,” said Suarez. “Here in San Antonio alone, we manage 30+ HIV-positive active-duty soldiers.” But rates of HIV are much lower in the military than in the U.S. population, Frankel said, adding that numbers for HIV from 2012 – 2017 “have been relatively stable.”

Costello said that chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are bacterial infections that are treated with antibiotics. HPV, herpes, and HIV are viruses and more difficult to treat. She said the most reliable way to avoid getting an STI is to stay away from oral, vaginal, and anal sex unless in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner known to be uninfected. But, she added, “That’s not a realistic plan for many of our younger service members who aren’t yet married or in long-term monogamous relationships.” Therefore, condom use is critical, she concluded, and any symptoms should lead to testing.

Efforts are ongoing to combat the rise of STIs through education. “STIs are preventable,” said Frankel. “It’s important for everyone to know how to protect themselves and their partners.”

You also may be interested in...

A stronger tomorrow starts today during Men’s Health Month

Article
6/29/2020
Men running on the street

Although just a guess, there’s a sneaky reason why June is designated as Men’s Health Month.

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

BACH Civilian earns RHC-A Civilian of the Year

Article
6/26/2020
Soldier and woman standing by two flags, crossed.

[Guidry] will advance to the U.S. Army’s Medical Command (MEDCOM) Civilian of the Year competition later this year.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Health Readiness | Combat Support

NMCSD Civilian Receives BUMED Civilian Biomedical Technician of the Year Award

Article
6/24/2020
Technician wearing mask, adjusting medical equipment

Navy identifies its top Civilian biomedical technician of the year!

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Navy Care virtual health app wins innovation award

Article
6/12/2020
Soldier in front of a computer monitor

Navy Care offers a live, virtual visit with a clinician — from the patient's smartphone, laptop, or computer.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Research and Innovation | Technology

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 6 - June 2020

Report
6/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Letter to the editor: G6PD deficiency in the Tafenoquine era; Summary of the 2018–2019 influenza season among Department of Defense service members and other beneficiaries; Brief report: Direct care cost of heat illness to the Army, 2016–2018; Animal-related injuries in veterinary services personnel, U.S. Army, 2001–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Men’s Health Month: A reminder to focus on physical, mental well-being

Article
6/1/2020
A doctor looking into a soldier's ear

Tips for preparing to talk to your doctor

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Total Force Fitness

Brooke AMC stands up new Strategic Trauma Readiness Center

Article
5/26/2020
Three surgeons discussing a patient on an operating table

What makes STaRC truly unique is its comprehensive assessment plan

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 5 - May 2020

Report
5/1/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, recruit trainees, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Medical evacuations out of the U.S. Central Command, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, deployed active and reserve component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, non-service member beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2019; Prevalence of selected underlying health conditions among active component Army service members with coronavirus disease 2019, 11 February–6 April 2020; Early use of ICD-10-CM code “U07.1, COVID-19” to identify 2019 novel coronavirus cases in Military Health System administrative data.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 4 - April 2020

Report
4/22/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Commentary: The Warrior Heat- and Exertion-Related Event Collaborative and the Fort Benning Heat Center; Update: Heat illness, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2019; Update: Exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2015–2019; Update: Exertional hyponatremia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2004–2019

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

FDA withdrawal of Zantac affects military health beneficiaries

Article
4/15/2020
Image of pharmacist counting out medication

Common heartburn drug pulled off shelves amid concerns

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Military medical training continues during COVID-19

Article
4/14/2020
Students and instructors in the METC Respiratory Therapist program practice safe distancing and wear face coverings while training with mechanical ventilators. (Photo by Oscar Lopez)

METC’s mission - to train the world's finest medics, corpsmen and technicians - is vital to force readiness and the nation.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Health Readiness

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 4 - APR 2020

Report
4/2/2020

As of 1 APR, 186,101 total confirmed COVID-19 cases (3,603 deaths) have been reported in all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Current hot spots include NY, NJ, LA, CA, GA, FL, SC, and Guam. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are rapidly accelerating in the U.S., an increase expected due to amplified testing capacity and ongoing community spread. As of 1 APR, CDC is reporting widespread transmission of COVID-19 in 25 (+12) U.S. states and Guam.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 27 No. 3 - March 2020

Report
3/30/2020

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Sexually transmitted infections, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2011–2019; Incidence of sexually transmitted infections before and after insertion of an intrauterine device or contraceptive implant, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2014–2019; Blood lead level surveillance among pediatric beneficiaries in the Military Health System, 2010–2017

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

TCCC prepares Airmen for domestic response

Article
3/9/2020
PATRIOT South 2020 participants complete two-day Tactical Combat Casualty Care training course during PATRIOT South 20 at Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center. PATRIOT South 20 is an annual, accredited Joint National Training Capability exercise that provides a simulated natural disaster environment for units to test their response and capabilities to conduct domestic operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Wendy Kuhn)

TCCC is not only applicable in combat casualty care, but also in mass casualty, disaster response or terrorist situations as well

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Female, male service members, veterans recover from concussion differently

Article
3/6/2020
At an informal celebration at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub earlier this month, U.S. Air Force personnel took delivery of four helmet designs that may each represent the next generation of fixed-wing aircrew equipment. In just nine months, the AFWERX innovations process generated tangible products for further Air Force testing and development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Nathan Riddle)

Female veterans may have a harder time performing some mental tasks after a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Women's Health | Men's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 40

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.