Sexually Transmitted Diseases

What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases transmitted through sexual contact. They are among the most common infectious diseases - with the United States having the highest rates of STDs in the industrialized world.

Prevention of STDs:

The best way to prevent contracting an STD is to abstain from any type of sexual intercourse. However, if you decide to become sexually active, or are currently sexually active, there are several precautionary measures you can follow, recommended by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to help reduce your risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease. These include the following:

  • have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner
  • use (consistently and correctly) a male condom
  • use sterile needles if injecting intravenous drugs
  • decrease susceptibility to HIV infections by preventing and controlling other STDs
  • delay having sexual relationships as long as possible - the younger a person is when they begin to have sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD
  • have regular checkups for STDs
  • learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms develop
  • avoid having sexual intercourse during menstruation
  • avoid anal intercourse, or use a male condom
  • avoid douching

What to do when diagnosed with an STD?

  • Begin treatment immediately, take the full course of medications, and follow your physician's advice.
  • Do not breastfeed a baby or use breast milk to feed a baby.
  • Notify all recent sexual partners and urge them to get medical checkups.
  • Avoid sexual activity while under treatment for an STD.
  • Have a follow-up test to be sure the STD has been successfully treated.

What are some common types of STDs?

Numerous STDs have?been identified and affect more than 15.3 million men and women in this country each year. According to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Centers for Disease Control, common types of STDs include:

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs)
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection.

People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases and to certain forms of cancer. Transmission of the virus most often occurs during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts called condylomas. These condylomas can occur on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Because HPV infection does not always cause warts, the infection may go undetected. Women with an HPV infection have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests can detect HPV infection, as well as abnormal cervical cells.

Although there is treatment for the condylomas (which sometimes go away on their own), the virus remains and warts can reappear. Smoking appears to increase problems related to HPV infection. Other types of HPV can also cause warts on other body parts such as the hands, called common warts, however, these do not generally cause health problems.

Chlamydial Infections
Chlamydial infections, the most common of all STDs, can affect both men and women. Infections may cause an abnormal genital discharge and burning with urination. In women, untreated chlamydial infection may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). However, many people with chlamydial infection have few or no symptoms of infection. Chlamydial infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy. Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination. The most common and serious complications occur in women, which include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility. Gonorrhea infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.
Genital Herpes
Genital herpes infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Symptoms may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time. There is no cure for HSV but there are anti-viral agents an individual can take during an outbreak to decrease the length of the outbreak.

The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears on the penis or around or in the vagina. If untreated, syphilis may go on to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and, eventually, serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system. Syphilis infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.
Genital Warts
Other diseases that may be sexually transmitted include:
Genital warts or venereal warts (condylomata acuminata) are caused by a virus related to the virus that causes common skin warts. Usually, genital warts first appear as small, hard, painless bumps in the vaginal area, on the penis, or around the anus. If warts do occur, there are topic agents that can be administered to remove them. Cryotherapy is also available to treat warts. There is no cure for HPV. Once an individual is infected, they continue to carry the virus indefinitely.
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • chancroid
  • cytomegalovirus infections
  • granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
  • lymphogranuloma venereum
  • molluscum contagiosum
  • pubic lice
  • scabies
  • trichomoniasis
  • vaginal yeast infections

Source: National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases

Facts about STDs:

  1. STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. However, nearly two-thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than age 25.
  2. STDs are on the rise, possibly due to more sexually active people who have multiple sex partners during their lives.
  3. Many STDs initially cause no symptoms. In addition, many STD symptoms may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact - especially in women. Even symptom-less STDs can be contagious.
  4. Women suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs:
    • Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which, can lead to both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
    • STDs in women also may be associated with cervical cancer.
    • STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth. Some infections of the newborn may be successfully treated, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.
  5. When diagnosed early, many STDs can be successfully treated.