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Sexually transmitted diseases are called STD's for short. They are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STI's). They are the result of some sort of sexual, i.e. genital, contact. The number of cases of STD's started falling with the advent of antibiotics (Read about "Antibiotics"), but that trend has reversed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the number of cases of almost all STD's is on the rise once again. The greatest increase is in the age group 15-24 with more and more women being infected. That has its own problems since many STD's can cause damage to the reproductive organs and leave a woman infertile. (Read about "Infertility")
You should discuss your personal history with your healthcare provider (HCP) and ask if you need to be screened or tested for STD's. Anyone who suspects they are infected with an STD should consult their HCP. Some but not all STD's can be cured. A person who suspects they are infected should also refrain from sexual contact to avoid infecting someone else.
CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for STD's, and treated if they are infected with an STD. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") STD's pose a danger to a fetus, some during pregnancy and others during delivery. If the STD cannot be treated, CDC says a woman may need a cesarean. (Read about "Childbirth")
The following is a short summary of the most common STD's. Much of the information comes from CDC.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.
(Read about "HIV / AIDS")
Chlamydia is caused by a type of bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis. CDC says it is the most frequently reported bacterial STD, with over half a million cases a year. Seventy-five percent of those reported cases are in people under the age of 25. CDC estimates however that the actual infection rate is much higher, about 3 million people a year. Because many people aren't aware they are infected, it is never reported.
Half of the men and 75 percent of the women infected have no symptoms. If there are any, they show up one to three weeks after infection.
For men, there is a burning sensation while urinating and there might be a discharge. There can also be a burning or itching at the opening of the penis or pain and swelling in the testicles. (Read about "Swollen Testicles and Scrotum")
The bacteria first attack the cervix and the urethra in women. If there are any symptoms, a burning sensation while urinating and/or an unusual vaginal discharge are most common. (Read about "Vaginal Discharge") If the infection spreads beyond the cervix, to the other reproductive organs in a woman, there may be some pain, perhaps a fever or bleeding between periods. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases there are no signs. Chlamydia, when it spreads, can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system of a woman. (Read about "Pelvic Inflammatory Disease")
Testing for chlamydia is relatively simple. A specimen can be taken from the penis or the cervix to test for the bacteria directly. A urine sample can also be used to detect the bacteria.
Treatment involves a round of antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") The sex partners of infected people also should be tested and treated if needed. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that women, under the age of 25, who have had any kind of sex, be tested for chlamydia on a regular basis.
CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for chlamydia, and treated if they are infected. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") Chlamydia poses a danger to a fetus during delivery. If the chlamydia cannot be treated, CDC says a woman may need a cesarean. (Read about "Childbirth")
Chlamydia can also trigger reactive arthritis, a condition that can cause inflammation in the joints, and sometimes the eyes and/or urinary tract. (Read about "The Eye" "Urinary System") Early treatment of chlamydia may slow the progression of reactive arthritis. (Read about "Reactive Arthritis")
CDC says condoms, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of contracting chlamydia. However, the only sure way to avoid chlamydia is abstinence. The odds of infection increase after that.
Gonorrhea is caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It easily grows in the mucous membranes of the body and other warm moist places. The female reproductive tract and the urethra of both men and women are the most common places infected, but not the only ones. There are cases of eye and throat infections caused by the bacteria.
The number of cases is growing and is now estimated to be over half a million new infections each year. CDC says that 75 percent of cases are reported in people 15-29 years of age. The groups with the highest infection rates are women 15-19 and males 20-24.
Most people will have some symptoms when they get infected. The first symptoms of gonorrhea tend to appear 2 to 5 days after exposure, but it can take as long as 30 days. For men, they include a burning sensation when urinating and a yellowish white discharge. Sometimes there will also be swollen and painful testicles. (Read about "Swollen Testicles and Scrotum") Women tend to have much milder symptoms and some will have none at all. Some symptoms for women can be mistaken for a bladder infection. Symptoms can however be much the same as for men, a burning sensation on urination or a yellowish vaginal discharge. (Read about "Vaginal Discharge") Gonorrhea in women can easily develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) (Read about "Pelvic Inflammatory Disease") and result in sterility in both men and women. A person with gonorrhea is also more at risk for other diseases including AIDS. (Read about "HIV / AIDS")
Diagnosis is done with a number of tests. A urine sample can be used to detect it if the urethra is infected. (Read about "The Urinary System") Samples can also be taken from suspected areas such as the cervix or throat to test for the bacteria. Treatment for gonorrhea is a course of antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") At one point, penicillin was the drug of choice. That is no longer so; many strains of gonorrhea have become resistant.
CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for gonorrhea, and treated if they are infected. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") Gonorrhea poses a danger to a fetus during delivery. If the gonorrhea cannot be treated, CDC says a woman may need a cesarean. (Read about "Childbirth")
CDC says condoms can reduce some, but not all the risk, of contracting an infection. But the only sure way to avoid gonorrhea is abstinence. The odds of infection increase after that.
Herpes is caused by a virus, not by bacteria. (Read about "Herpes") As such, antibiotics have no effect. There are two herpes viruses that are labeled sexually transmitted, herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is the virus that is generally associated with cold sores around the mouth and the lips. It can be spread to the genitals. HSV-2 is generally spread via genital contact.
Herpes is a common infection. CDC estimates that over 45 million Americans are infected, with a slightly higher rate among women. The infection rate is continuing to increase with a 30 percent jump over the last 3 decades.
The signs of an infection are blisters that appear at the infection site. They break open and become sores that take a few weeks to heal. The virus however does not go away. It merely becomes dormant for a period of time. Another outbreak, a few weeks or months later is not unusual. Outbreaks can continue throughout a person's life, though the severity tends to diminish.
Unfortunately, many people do not know they are infected. They have never had an outbreak of sores. They can still pass on the virus, as can people who know they are infected but are showing no signs. The virus can still be present and passed on.
A rare but real danger of herpes infection is in pregnant women. An infected woman can pass on the infection during delivery. Such a situation can be fatal for the baby. CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for genital herpes. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") Genital herpes poses a danger to a fetus during delivery. CDC says a woman may need a cesarean. (Read about "Childbirth")
Herpes is also suspected of playing a major role in the spread of AIDS. CDC says a person with herpes is more susceptible to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
There is no cure for herpes. There are some medications that can lessen the severity and length of outbreaks. Once again the only sure way to prevent getting herpes is abstinence. All other methods carry risks.
HPV stands for the human papillomavirus. There are over 100 types or strains of HPV, according to CDC. About a third of the strains of HPV are sexually transmitted and can cause warts in the genital area. These sexually transmitted strains of HPV are different from the strains of HPV that cause skin warts on the hands or feet. (Read about skin warts in "Warts")
HPV is fairly common, according to CDC. Some 20 million Americans are infected right now and five and a half million more are infected each year. Most sexually active people, 50 to 75 percent, will get an HPV infection during their lives.
Most people who are infected don't even know it. That's because the virus often doesn't result in visible warts. When it does, they can appear anywhere in the genital region externally and even internally on the cervix in women.
There is no cure for HPV, but many infections go away on their own. There is also a vaccine that may help prevent genital warts that are caused by certain types of HPV. Visible warts can be removed but no one method is considered better that others. Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent infection. All other methods carry some risk.
One of the dangers of HPV infection is that about 10 of the HPV viruses are linked to cervical cancer. (Read about "Cervical Cancer") Pap tests are a critical screening procedure for all women, especially women who may be infected with HPV. A test for HPV infection has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for women 30 and older, for whom HPV infection is more likely to be linked to cervical cancer.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute says a number of other cancers can be caused by HPV infection. They include: some oropharyngeal cancers (Read about "Head and Neck Cancers"), vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer (Read about "Vaginal Cancer"), penile cancer (Read about "Penile Cancer") and anal cancer.
A vaccine is now available that is aimed at HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. HPV is responsible for genital warts and the vast majority of precancerous genital lesions and cervical cancers. CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) suggests the vaccine for use in females 9-26 years of age and males 9-21 years of age. FDA says the vaccine is effective against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers and against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause approximately 90 percent of genital warts. The vaccine does not appear to help if someone is already infected by a particular virus. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it is still valuable to get the vaccine to protect from the other viruses.
CDC says condoms can reduce some of the risk of infection. However, the only way to be sure you do not get an HPV infection is abstinence. All other methods carry a level of risk.
Syphilis is caused by a type of bacteria called Treponema pallidum. It causes sores and those sores are the way the disease is passed on during sexual contact. It does take direct contact however. The bacteria can be passed on by an infected woman to her unborn child, resulting in death for the fetus or the child soon after birth. Over 30 thousand people are infected each year.
Syphilis has three basic stages:
The tests for syphilis are simple. A microscopic examination of a sample from a sore can tell if the bacteria are present. Shortly after infection, a blood test can tell if a person has been infected. (Read about "Laboratory Testing")
Syphilis is easily cured with a round of antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") Damage done to internal organs however, many times cannot be repaired.
CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for syphilis, and treated if they are infected. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") Syphilis poses a danger to a fetus during pregnancy. The March of Dimes says untreated syphilis, for example, can result in stillbirth, newborn death or birth defects. (Read about "Birth Defects")
CDC says condoms - correctly used - can reduce some, but not all of the risk of contracting syphilis. However, abstinence is the only sure way to prevent infection. All other methods carry some risk.
A single celled parasite is the cause of trichomoniasis. CDC calls it a common sexually transmitted disease. There are about 5 million new cases each year. Women tend to be infected in the vagina, men in the urethra.
Men seldom have symptoms but may experience slight discomfort after urination. Women will have a yellow-green discharge that has a strong odor. There can also be discomfort during urination and intercourse. The symptoms usually appear one to 4 weeks after exposure.
The diagnosis in women is with a physical exam that reveals sores on the vagina or cervix. Tests on vaginal fluids can confirm the presence of the parasite.
Treatment is a round of prescription drugs to kill the parasite. These can be taken orally or vaginally. Once again, CDC says condoms - correctly used - can reduce some, but not all of the risk of contracting this disease. However, abstinence is the only sure way to avoid infection.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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