Traveling enriches our lives and exposes us to new cultures. Whether you plan to take a gap year after college to cross items off your bucket list or you’re planning a summer holiday break to visit friends, you’re sure to make lasting memories no matter the destination.
But your health may take a hit during your travels, leaving you with something else that could be lasting: an STD or STI. Don’t worry — there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to stay healthy and STD-free while traveling.
The Global Cost of STDs
First, let’s break down the problem itself. STD stands for sexually transmitted disease, while an STI is a sexually transmitted infection. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, you can have STI without having an STD, and being infected does not necessarily mean that you will feel sick or exhibit signs of a disease. Not all STIs result in the development of an STD.
No matter the terminology used, STDs and STIs are a widespread, costly problem in the U.S. and across the world. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are about 19.7 million cases of STIs reported every year, and treating those infections costs the country nearly $16 billion annually.
Among the most common STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and herpes simplex virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 1 million STDs are contracted daily worldwide. That’s a number that’s too big to ignore.
At-Risk Groups for STDs and STIs
Research indicates that young people are among the most susceptible groups for contracting STDs. In fact, according to CNN, people aged 15 to 24 years old accounted for nearly two-thirds of chlamydia diagnoses and half of all gonorrhea cases in 2015. But those numbers can be drastically reduced with education, testing, and safe behaviors.
The risk of contracting an STD can increase if you’re traveling. No matter your destination, make sure to get tested for STDs before setting off so that you know your status. In that case, you can take measures to treat any STDs or STIs you may have contracted prior to your journey.
Some STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, are curable with antibiotics. Others, including herpes and HIV, are permanent but can be treated and managed. There are many measures you can take to reduce your risk of contracting an STD while traveling, but the only sure way is to not have sex.
Staying Safe While Traveling
As you might assume, STDs and STIs are typically spread via sexual contact. However, there are rare occurrences that can put you in contact with an STD even if you abstain from sex.
STIs can be spread in various strange ways, including through beards and when sharing lip balm, other cosmetics, or razors. Preventative measures include never sharing grooming products and always using hand sanitizer after using public restrooms — including in airplanes and airports.
When traveling, you’re going to meet countless people, and some of those people could end up becoming an intimate partner. Make sure to always use condoms, and don’t be shy: Ask your potential partner about their STD status before engaging in sexual activity. Further, if you have an STI yourself, always share that knowledge with potential partners.
Innovations in Patient-Doctor Communication
If you believe that you have been exposed to an STD or STI during your travels, you may be able to see your doctor, no matter the distance. Today, telehealth usage is becoming more and more widespread, allowing you to visit your primary care physician no matter where you are in the world.
Telehealth is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of technologies and methods that deliver virtual health and heath education services to patients. When used in conjunction with technological advancements in the medical internet of things (such as wearable technology and medical apps), telehealth enables individuals to receive effective healthcare remotely. An STD diagnosis can be embarrassing for many people, and the use of telemedicine assures discretion, as you don’t have to go to a clinic and sit in a waiting room with strangers.
You may also want to consider getting travel or evacuation insurance before setting off on your journey. If you’re in a remote area and believe that you have contracted an STD, medical evacuation insurance may cover the cost to transport you to a hospital in a larger city that offers complete care.
Smart travelers always take measures to protect their home while away, so why should your body be any different? The threat of contracting an STD or STI on your travels is very real, and education is your first line of defense. Understand the risks, get yourself tested, and make good choices regarding hygiene and potential sexual partners.
You can further protect yourself prior to setting off by making sure your primary care provider knows where you’re traveling to and has telehealth capabilities. If the unexpected does indeed occur on your journey, having quality healthcare that’s just a few clicks away can make a world of difference.