Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs, are infectious diseases transferred from one person to another through sexual contact. They can be transmitted through any type of sexual contact that involve the sex organs or the mouth or through contact with the infected person’s blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20 STDs have already been identified and annually, some 13 to 15 million Americans are affected by them. Those with greatest risk of acquiring an STD are said to be adolescents and young adults (Epigee, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”).
Left untreated, many types of STDs can pose severe consequences on its victims, especially on women. Some are curable and may just cause discomfort on the infected individual but others such as AIDS, herpes, genital warts and gonorrhea have been known to be fatal. Undesirable effects on women include pelvic infections, complications during pregnancy, sterility and cancer. STDs do not discriminate against sexual orientation, age and background. They can even be passed on from mother to infant during pregnancy or after birth.
There is also an alarming rise in the spread of STD among younger generations who are becoming sexually active and are having multiple partners. Some STDs are asymptomatic (do not show symptoms) hence they can be unknowingly passed on to another person who has sexual contact with the infected person. Since most STDs are transmitted sexually, a person can acquire more than one STD at a time and someone who has STD increases his or her chances of becoming infected with AIDS. HIV/AIDS HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
Considered the 6th leading cause of death among young men and women, HIV/AIDS is “an infection of the immune system which destroys the body’s ability to fight off infections. HIV infects the cells (T Lymphocytes) of the immune system weakening the entire system (Sexually Transmitted Disease Resource Center). ” Blood, breast milk, semen, vaginal fluids, tears and saliva can contain HIV but medical experts have shown that the disease is only transmitted through blood and sexual fluids.
People living with HIV/AIDS may not look sick but they can still infect others. Initial symptoms of HIV include “swollen lymph glands, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and fever. ” Because of its flu-like symptoms, many people fail to notice any indication of this disease. The virus can remain dormant in the person’s system for many years but it continually weakens the immune system by attacking the CD4 cells. When these cells become loaded with the virus, the infection will eventually progress to a diagnosis of AIDS (Epigee, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”). ”
The advanced stage of HIV which is AIDS will manifest the following common symptoms: fever, seizures, shortness of breath, confusion and forgetfulness, vision loss, weight loss and fatigue, severe headaches and coma (Stoppler, HIV/AIDS). There may be treatments that can prolong the life of a person with HIV but most people diagnosed with AIDS and will eventually conclude their lives with a long and painful death. There is presently no cure for HIV and statistically by end of 2003, HIV has spread to almost every country and more than 40 million people worldwide, half of which are women, are infected with it.
Symptoms may not appear for the first few years, and so many do not realize they are infected not unless they undergo testing. People with STDs like syphilis, herpes, Chlamydia, gonorrhea or bacterial vaginosis are at a higher risk of acquiring HIV during sex with an infected partner. Chancroid Chancroid, also known as soft chancre or venereal sore, is an STD caused by exposure to Haemophilus ducreyi (a small gram-negative rod organism). This is a human genital ulcer disease common in African, Asian and Latin American nations (Sexually Transmitted Disease Resource Center).
This STD causes painfully, irregular shaped sores, but is a localized infection which can be cured and has no long-term effects. In men, they are usually found in the prepuce, coronal sulcus and glans while for women, the ulcers can be found in the cervix, vaginal entrance, labia majora and minora and peri-anal area. Rectal sores may bleed or cause pain when defecating (Sexually Transmitted Disease Resource Center). Chlamydia Considered to be the most widespread and commonly reported STD in the United States, chlamydia is a bacterial infection caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium.
It is a very dangerous STD because of its asymptomatic character, and women can carry the bacteria for months or years without knowing it. Studies show that ? of women and ? of men who are infected do not show symptoms at all (AVERT, “STD Statistics”). Nevertheless there are indications of chlamydia to look out for, usually manifesting between one to three weeks after infection: constant lower abdominal pain, mucus-like vaginal discharge, nausea and fever, pain experienced during intercourse and urination, and spotting between periods.
Chlamydia infects the urethra, rectum and eyes in both sexes. It can be cured with antibiotics but when left untreated, the effects are worse for women, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), cervicitis, infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Newborns infected with it may develop neonatal conjunctivitis and pneumonia. Men infected by chlamydia may experience complications like epididymitis and urethritis. Despite many undiagnosed and unreported cases of chlamydia, it is estimated that there are about 2. 8 million new cases of chlamydia in the United States yearly (CDC, “STD Surveillance 2005”).
A statistic worth noting is that the prevalence of chlamydia among black Americans was over eight times the rate of whites in the year 2005. Among American Indian/Alaska Natives and Hispanics, those positive for chlamydia were also significantly higher than among whites (AVERT, “STD Statistics”). Gonorrhea Once known as the “clap,” gonorrhea is an STD that infects the urethra, cervix, rectum, anus and throat. Symptoms usually appear between 1 and 14 days after exposure, but like chlamydia, a person can be asymptomatic.
Nevertheless, symptoms of this STD, which are frequently noticeable among men, include white or yellowish discharge from the penis, inflammation of the testicles, discharge from the anus or for women, change in vaginal discharge. Forty percent of gonorrhea victims will suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), damaging the reproductive system which in turn can lead to sterility. Next to chlamydia, gonorrhea is the second most widespread infectious disease in the United States. Although experts estimate that twice as many of the reported infections actually occur each year.
Another noteworthy finding is that for 2005, the rate of gonorrhea among African Americans was 18 times greater than among whites (CDC, “STD Surveillance 2005”). It is said that gonorrhea and chlamydia are usually acquired simultaneously. Those testing for chlamydia are frequently advised to also test for gonorrhea. Although both of these STDs are curable, the bacteria are proven causes of PID which damages the reproductive system if treatment is not given. Genital Warts Genital warts can either appear as small bumps on the genital area that are colored white or flesh, or they can be large, fleshy and cauliflower in shape.
This sexually transmitted disease is passed on through genital skin-to-skin contact or through contact with infected genital fluids. The infection may occur during vaginal or anal sex but it is possible to contract this through non-penetrative sexual activity, or in rare cases a baby can acquire it during vaginal childbirth. The warts, caused by sub-types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), usually appear on the skin within the genital area between one to three months after infection. The bumps are not painful but can be itchy, and women with warts on the cervix may bleed or have unusually colored vaginal discharge.
Because it is caused by a virus, genital warts like HIV and herpes, is an incurable STD (Epigee, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”). Granuloma An STD frequently common among homosexual men aged 20-45 is the granuloma inquinale. It is a chronic and slightly contagious infection common in the tropics and subtropical areas hence there is only a few reported cases of granuloma in the United States (Sexually Transmitted Disease Resource Center). Men with granuloma have lesions on the head or shaft of the penis while women may notice lesions along the vaginal entrance or at the inner labia.
Granuloma is usually acquired through anal sex or oral-anal contact. Genital Herpes A person who has genital herpes may experience multiple uncomfortable symptoms such as fluid-filled blisters or groups of small ulcers (open sores) found on the genitals. They burst and leave small painful sores; itching or tingling sensations in the genital or anal area, headaches, backache or flu-like symptoms. Genital herpes is a common and highly infectious disease that has no cure. Although it is painful and episodic (lasts from two to four weeks but may recur later), there is available treatment that can be done to relieve this uncomfortable infection.
What happens is that when the initial outbreak is over, the herpes virus remains dormant in the nerves near the infected site and symptoms are no longer felt by the individual. However they may recur in the future, although the symptoms may be less severe and lasts for a short while (Stoppler, “Genital Herpes”). .Human Papilloma Virus Similar to HIV, there is presently no cure for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a very common STD that 33% of women are believed to have this virus.
It is also linked with cancers of the female productive system, and particularly a prominent factor in cervical cancer, also associated to penile cancer and genital pain. According to the Epigee Women’s Health website, “about 30 different strains of HPV are considered to be sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and are spread through sexual contact. ” As mentioned earlier, a sub-type of this virus brings about genital warts. Treatment for HPV is available to reduce the symptoms and as a preventive measure, the HPV vaccine has been developed to prevent its infection. Pubic Lice
Pubic lice are small crab-shaped parasites that burrow into the skin to feed on blood. Also known as crabs, they infest typically on pubic hair, but these parasites can also be found in armpit and facial hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Yellow-green in color and named such because of their pincers, genital crabs can be itchy and irritating and may inflame the affected area. More than three million cases of crabs are noted in the United States annually (Stoppler, “Crabs”). Pubic lice are not only sexually transmitted, they can be acquired through sharing items such as clothes, beds or other personal items with an infected individual.
However, crabs are not transmitted in generic areas like toilets or swimming pools. Crabs are visible and may be spotted moving. Their eggs can also be found stuck to the hair strand and spots of blood can be noticed in the blood vessels where the lice feed. While shaving pubic hair is not a deterrent to these pests, special products are available in the market for the treatment of crabs. Syphilis Syphilis is a highly infectious STD caused by Treponema palladium. It is a curable disease when treated during the primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis stages, both of which are considered the most infectious stages.
But if left untreated, syphilis can progress to its tertiary stage, which may “lead to serious long-term complications, including neurologic, cardiovascular, and organ damage, and even death (CDC, “STD Surveillance 2005”). ” Even though syphilis is often transmitted sexually, an infected female can pass it on to the unborn child. “Congenital syphilis can cause stillbirth, death soon after birth, and physical deformity and neurological complications in children who survive (CDC, “STD Surveillance 2005”). ” Having syphilis has been found to exacerbate the spread of HIV hence it is crucial that this STD be cured and treated right away.
It may take up to three months after sexual contact with an infected person to notice the symptoms. They include painful sores with pus on the penis, vagina, anus, cervix, vulva or mouth. Swollen glands in the groin area may also cause lumps to appear. Outbreaks of syphilis are common in the United States and the UK, increasingly in groups where men who have high-risk sexual behavior with other men are present. The rate of syphilis in 2005 was 5. 4 times higher among African Americans than among whites (AVERT, “STD Statistics”). Trichomoniasis
Another one of the most common but curable sexually transmitted diseases is Trichomoniasis, also known as “Trich. ” The single-celled organism Trichomonas vaginalis is said to be its cause. Trich is another one of those asymptomatic STDs that can infect the vagina and the male and female urethra. It is more common in women than in men, who can experience inflammation of the vulva and cystitis. Once infected, the person may notice unpleasant smelling discharge from the reproductive organ, experience discomfort or pain during intercourse and may also have painful urination.
Premature childbirth can also happen to pregnant women who have this STD (Epigee, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”). Trichomoniasis may be treated with the metronidazole drug (oral or in gel form), an antibiotic said to be 90-95% effective in treating this infection. If symptoms are noticed, women are advised to be tested first prior to treatment since trich can also be mistaken for yeast infection. In summary, STDs are diseases that can be transferred through sexual contact. It does not necessarily have to be penetrative because in spreading STDs, kissing, oral-genital contacts and use of “sex toys” are not to be discounted.
The concept of safe sex then, entails a monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner or abstinence from sex altogether. Even the use of contraceptives like condoms may not entirely be risk-free, as they provide minimal protection against HPV, trichomoniasis, Chlamydia and herpes. A lot of things can be said regarding the progress being made on the fight against sexually transmitted diseases. The prevalence rates for some of these diseases may have increased but there are also STDs whose values have significantly declined over the years due to the continued efforts being made to address this health issue.
The important thing is to encourage as many sexually active people to undergo tests and screening in order to alleviate the spread of these infections. There should likewise be increased efforts in awareness campaigns provided by health care providers and the public should have easy access to tests and treatments available to them. Prenatal screenings should also be encouraged to avoid congenital defects and make sure that infants are born healthy and safe. Factoring in education about sexually transmitted diseases at all available venues will definitely do much in achieving the “Healthy People 2010” national target.