May 23, 2022 by John Fernandez
Urgent Care Doctors See Spring Break Spike in STDs
With South Florida’s peak tourist season approaching, signs that the Spring Break crowds have arrived can already be seen in our more-crowded-than-usual highways, hotels, beaches and bars. It can also be seen at the Baptist Health Urgent Care center on Miami Beach, where doctors this time of year typically see a significant spike in patients with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five Americans has an STD – that’s 68 million infections nationwide – and more than 26 million new cases are diagnosed each year. That number may be low, as many people with STDs fail to seek care out of ignorance, embarrassment or shame. Also, doctors say that many STDs are never detected because people often have no symptoms.
STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections, can affect individuals of all ages but are especially common in young people. The CDC estimates that youth ages 15 to 24 account for almost half of all new sexually transmitted infections in the country. With so many Spring Breakers across the country falling into this demographic, it’s easy to see why urgent care centers in the area treat more patients with STDs this time of year.
Roger Alvarez Soto, M.D., says STDs are among the conditions he commonly treats as an urgent care physician with Baptist Health Urgent Care, particularly at their Brickell and Miami Beach locations, where they treat anywhere from five to 10 STD cases a day, on average, and even more during March and April.
“These locations have a younger demographic,” Dr. Alvarez points out. “Brickell has a large concentration of young professionals – people in their twenties, thirties and forties who live and work there and who tend to lead very active social lives. We treat a lot of STDs there.”
Miami Beach, on the other hand, is more of a transient market, says Dr. Alvarez. “We typically treat lots of young tourists there, especially this time of year when excessive drinking and partying can lead to risky sexual behaviors such as having unprotected sex or having sex with multiple partners.”
STDs can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, oral or anal sex, Dr. Alvarez notes. And although it rarely happens, he says STDs can also be spread through intimate physical contact such as heavy petting. People who have compromised immune systems can get infected more easily, he adds.
Time is health – don’t delay treating an STD
According to Dr. Alvarez, the list of STDs people commonly seek treatment for at Baptist Health Urgent Care ranges from herpes and genital warts to gonorrhea, chlamydia and primary or early-stage syphilis. In some cases, he says, patients can be infected with both chlamydia and gonorrhea, as these conditions tend to co-exist.
“Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum and throat and can be passed from mother to baby during childbirth, causing severe complications in newborns,” Dr. Alvarez says. “While both can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in females, chlamydia causes serious permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, leading to infertility.”
The type and duration of treatment for an STD varies depending on the diagnosis, according to Dr. Alvarez. “For some conditions, like herpes, we can simply write a prescription for an antiviral drug and you’re on your way,” he says. Others, like later-stage syphilis, can be more difficult to diagnose and treat. “Syphilis is a great simulator as it mimics many other conditions, so an accurate diagnosis can often be a challenge.”
With STDs, as with most any disease, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome, says Dr. Alvarez. “That’s why it’s so important to both make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate treatment,” he says. “With STDs, time is health. The longer you delay your treatment, the worse the consequences can be.”
How do you know if you have an STD?
One of the first steps in treating an STD is knowing whether or not you have one. Because STDs don’t always cause symptoms, or may cause only mild symptoms, Dr. Alvarez says it’s possible to have an infection and not even know it.
“Many infections can be asymptomatic. That’s why, if you and your partner are having sex, you owe it to each other to get tested – especially if you’re not in an exclusive relationship,” Dr. Alvarez says. Even then, he adds, it’s possible to be in an exclusive relationship and still get an infection, “At least once a year, you and your partner should have a conversation about STD prevention and get screened by your doctor.”
Dr. Alvarez advises seeing a healthcare provider as soon as possible for STD testing if you have an unprotected sexual encounter or develop unexplained genitourinary symptoms. “These might include painful or painless genital ulcers, burning with urination or an unusual vaginal or penile discharge,” he says, adding that urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra, is common with both chlamydia and gonorrhea and can sometimes be painful.
Also, Dr. Alvarez says, it’s not uncommon for female patients to mistake STD symptoms for yeast infections or urinary tract infections, or for men to mistake STD symptoms for folliculitis or jock itch. “At Baptist Health Urgent Care, we have the ability to accurately diagnose and treat any and all types of STDs,” he says.
As the CDC notes, prompt testing and treatment for STDs can prevent long-term complications and reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to someone else. Depending on the test, Dr. Alvarez says that most STDs can be detected within two weeks to three months following infection.
Not all STDs are curable, Dr. Alvarez points out, but if you do receive a positive diagnosis, he says the good news is that most STDs are treatable with medication. If left untreated, however, he says that some STDs can cause chronic urinary problems in males and infertility in females.
“STDs shouldn’t be taken lightly. They can be quite serious, especially for a college-age woman who is in her prime,” says Dr. Alvarez. “She’s here on Spring Break having the time of her life and I’m pretty sure she’s not giving too much thought about her future while she’s here. But if she’s not careful and winds up with an STD that goes untreated, she might not be able to have children later in life. That would be unfortunate.”
With STDs, everyone is at risk
One of the problems with STDs, Dr. Alvarez says, is that everyone is at risk. “Male, female, young, old, black, white, gay, straight – STDs don’t have a face and they don’t discriminate,” he says. “It all depends on your sexual practices. If you have risky sex, you’re at high risk for an STD.”
Short of abstinence, a strategy few Spring Breakers seem curious about, what’s the best way to prevent an STD? Dr. Alvarez says that using a condom is the most effective protection against STDs. “Spring break is a great time to relax, have fun and disconnect,” he acknowledges. “But for your health and the health of those around you, party safely and always – always – use protection during sexual encounters.”