STDs and the military: Busting the myths
Stars and Stripes
If I’m in the military and have an STD, I’ll get in trouble with my command.
Not true, say most military health care providers. Commanding officers have access to medical records, but the mind-set these days is to treat and contain the disease, not punish the servicemember.
“In the past, we used to punish sailors for having STDs, but from a preventative medical standpoint, that was absolutely counterproductive,” U.S. 7th Fleet Preventive Health Officer Cmdr. Eric Kasowski said. “We want them treated and we want them ready. We try hard not to stigmatize it too much to keep sailors from being treated. We teach and enforce avoidance — and it seems to work pretty well.”
Technically, you can get in trouble if the infection is the result of policy infractions such as being in an off-limits club, said Lt. Col. Marie Price, the Army’s 18th Medical Command chief public health promotion coordinator in South Korea.
My STD is my business.
Not necessarily. Positive tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and HIV are reportable to public health officials in all branches of the military. Counseling sessions are then mandated for two purposes: to explain about the disease and to contain it. Most interviews will ask the person to names their sexual partners going back six months, and preventive health officials will inform the partners so they can get tested.
My risk of getting an STD drops when I’m home from my deployment.
Though risks and infection rates differ from place to place, STDs are largely behavioral and can happen anywhere safe-sex precautions aren’t observed.
“A one-night stand in Japan is just as dangerous as a one-night stand in your home port,” said Lt. Patricia Roldan, U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka Environmental Health officer.
STDs have a major impact on military readiness.
Today, gonorrhea and syphilis barely cause blips in lost duty time, unlike World War I days when the Army alone lost 7 million person days to what was then commonly called venereal disease, according to a 2005 report on military contributions to the study of STDs.
The military’s awareness and prevention campaign started in earnest in WWII and continued through Vietnam, where “V.D.” was the most common diagnosis among servicemembers, the report said. With education and treatment, STDs haven’t been considered an illness of true operational significance for years, Kasowski said.
STDs are unavoidable.
On the contrary, STDs are easily preventable with safe-sex practices or abstinence and personal responsibility.
(Additional sources: U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. William Meyer, “Military Medicine,” 170, 4:61, 2005: History of U.S. Military Contributions to the Study of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Borden Institute publication: Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Military Recruits)