August 5, 2002
When Anne began having sex with a man she was dating, she insisted on using condoms. After a few weeks, he told her that he'd tested HIV-negative. "Because of that -- and this was stupid of me -- I had unprotected sex," she recalls. Anne contracted HIV from her boyfriend. "I think it was just his own denial," said Anne.
It's also possible that Anne's boyfriend honestly didn't know he had HIV -- which is among the problems that continue to drive up HIV rates despite educational efforts, said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention with the CDC. The same is true for other STDs, other experts say.
Overall, 77 percent of the 440 HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in a CDC study were unaware they were infected. The study surveyed 5,719 men ages 15 to 29 in six major cities. US health officials estimate that 40,000 Americans -- including 12,000 women -- are infected with HIV each year, with heterosexual sex accounting for one-third of all new cases. In recent years, African-American women accounted for nearly half of the known cases of new infections caused by heterosexual sex, according to the CDC.
"People are a lot less concerned in general about HIV, and as a consequence they're doing less to protect against all [STDs]," says Dr. Martin Gallo, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Good Samaritan Hospital. "There's just a ton of genital warts that are out there," he said. Judith Sutton, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of Chicago, also reported seeing a large number of patients with genital warts -- "HPV [human papillomavirus] is epidemic," she said -- and a marked rise in the number of herpes cases.
Sutton recommends that new partners get tested for STDs before they start having sex and repeat the tests six months later. A woman should get a pap smear to check for HPV six months after she and her partner first have sex without a condom so, if detected, it can be treated promptly. In fact, because male condoms don't protect entirely against HPV and herpes, it's advisable to use the female condom, which covers the entire female genital area.