Sexually Transmitted Diseases
A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is a disease or infection that is spread from one person to another through sexual contact. Most STDs are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses that are transmitted through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or bodily fluids. Sexually transmitted diseases can cause problems ranging from mild irritation to severe pain. Left untreated, some STDs can cause illness, cancer, infertility or harm to a fetus during pregnancy.
Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
There are many different types of viruses that are characterized as STDs. Some of which include:
- Genital herpes
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Different STDs have different causes. Gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are caused by bacteria; trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite; and HPV, genital herpes and HIV are caused by viruses.
Causes of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
STDs are caused by a bacterial or viral infection that is spread through sexual contact. Anyone who is sexually active risks exposure to a sexually transmitted infection to some extent. People who may have a higher risk of contracting an STD include those who:
- Engage in unprotected sex
- Have multiple sexual partners
- Are already infected with an STD
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Share needles for drug use or tattoos
Certain sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, HIV and syphilis, may be passed from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or delivery.
Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Most sexually transmitted diseases, have no symptoms at all, so people may not even know they have been infected. When symptoms develop, they can vary depending on the specific type of STD, and may include the following:
- Vaginal or penile discharge
- Pain during intercourse
- Painful urination
- Sores or blisters on the genitals
- Abdominal pain
If an STD is suspected, it is important to see a doctor for testing. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid severe health problems and the spread of infection.
Diagnosis of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
A sexually transmitted disease is diagnosed through a physical examination and review of symptoms. Additional diagnostic tests may include the following:
- Urine tests
- Blood tests
- Fluid samples
Periodic STD testing is recommended for people who are sexually active, especially for those with multiple sexual partners. Pregnant women are also routinely screened for STDs, including HIV, hepatitis B, chlamydia and syphilis. This screening often takes place at the first prenatal visit.
Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Treatment for sexually transmitted diseases varies depending on the specific diagnosis. Some STDs can be treated with antibiotics or antiviral medication. Viral infections can be managed but not always cured. Some medications may also help to ease the severity of symptoms. Currently, there is no cure available for HIV, but it can often be treated with a combination of medications. STDs are serious infections that can cause lifelong or recurring symptoms and side effects.
Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sex. Other recommendations for avoiding STDs include:
- Remaining in a long-term monogamous relationship
- Using condoms
- Avoiding intercourse with new partners until after STD testing
HPV vaccinations are recommended to males and females between the ages of 9 and 26, who are not yet sexually active. This vaccination helps to prevent specific strains of HPV, and it is administered as three separate injections, over the course of six months.