I work in Urgent Care centers across metro Atlanta. There are six Northside Urgent Care centers, and I periodically cover shifts at each location. Each center has its own unique personality. Midtown Atlanta has a much younger, widely diverse, and, based on the STI rates, a very sexually active persona when compared to the suburbs. I rarely work a shift without diagnosing someone with a sexually transmitted illness. Instead of Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My. In midtown, watch out for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea and Syphilis, Oh My.
I had a 20 year old come in to review her labs in person recently because I knew there would be a lot of questions. Plus, I needed to give her an injection, a prescription and a strong recommendation for condom usage. She had not one, but three sexually transmitted illnesses, the trifecta. You might think this is unusual, but it is actually fairly common. Many times, patients have no, or minimal, symptoms. They are often advised to be tested by a partner with a recent positive screen. My advice based on my time diagnosing STIs in midtown Atlanta, is to have sex with no one under the age of 35 that resides in, or visits, midtown Atlanta regularly without wearing a full-body condom.
Antibiotics are used to treat these three infections, but resistant strains have developed. Oral gonorrhea is a tough one because it can present as a basic sore throat. So, don’t be surprised if you see me in urgent care for your sore throat and I ask about your oral sex history. The basic sore throat visits are a bit more interesting than I was led to believe in medical school. I know I’ve been married a long time, but what happened to making a prospective partner show you their negative (recent) STI panel? I think we need to bring this back and make it fun and affordable. What about BOGO specials for STI screening before the weekend festivities?
While I am writing this with some levity, please know that these conditions can cause serious health problems including pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic urinary or pelvic pain, and infertility. Untreated syphilis can lead to very serious neurologic problems such as seizures and memory loss. If you’ve had one STI, then you are more likely to have been exposed to others. While we now have a vaccine for HPV, not all sexually active individuals are vaccinated. HPV leads to cervical cancer and many head and neck cancers.
Don’t forget, there is always herpes waiting and watching for an opportunity to jump into the game. While it doesn’t cause many serious consequences, it is the one that is often the most upsetting to patients because there is no cure and you never know when it might strike. So, watch out.
Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My!