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Sexually Transmitted Diseases


Sexually transmitted diseases (STD), also referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STI) and venereal diseases (VD), are illnesses that have a significant probability of transmission between humans by means of sexual behavior.

There are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections every year in the United States, and, in 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that 448 million people aged 15-49 were being infected a year with curable STIs such as syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia.


Not all STIs cause symptoms, and symptoms may not appear immediately after infection.  In some instances a disease can be carried with no symptoms, which leaves a greater risk of passing the disease on to others.  Depending on the disease, some untreated STIs can lead to infertility, chronic pain or even death.

Sexually transmitted infections include:


Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.  In women, symptoms may include abnormal vaginal discharge, burning during urination, and bleeding in between periods, although most women do not experience any symptoms.  If left untreated, Chlamydia can infect the urinary tract and potentially lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  PID can cause serious problems during pregnancy and even has the potential to cause infertility.  It can cause a woman to have a potentially deadly ectopic pregnancy, in which the child is born outside of the uterus.  However, Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics.


The two most common forms of herpes are caused by infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 is acquired orally and causes cold sores.  HSV-2 is acquired during sexual contact and affects the genitals.  Some people are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms.  Those that do experience symptoms usually notice them 2 to 20 days after exposure which last 2 to 4 weeks.  Symptoms can include small fluid-filled blisters, headaches, backaches, itching or tingling sensations in the genital or anal area, pain during urination, Flu like symptoms, swollen glands or fever.  Herpes is spread through skin contact with a person infected with the virus.  The virus affects the areas where it entered the body.  This can occur through kissing, vaginal intercourses, oral sex or anal sex.  The virus is most infectious during times when there are visible symptoms, however those who are asymptomatic can still spread the virus through skin contact.  The primary attack is the most severe because the body does not have any antibodies built up.  After the primary attack, one might have recurring attacks that are milder or might not even have future attacks.  There is no cure for the disease but there are antiviral medications that treat its symptoms and lower the risk of transmission.

Human papillomavirus

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI in the United States.  There are more than 40 different strands of HPV and many do not cause any health problems.  The 90% of cases the body’s immune system clears the infection naturally within 2 years.  Some cases may not be cleared and can lead to genital warts or cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers. Symptoms might not show up until advanced stages.  It is important for women to get pap smears in order to check for and treat cancers.  Young women can be vaccinated to protect against some strands of HPV.  HPV can be passed through genital-to-genital contact as well as during oral sex.  It is important to remember that the infected partner might not have any symptoms.


Gonorrhea is caused by bacterium that lives on moist mucous membranes in the urethra, vagina, rectum, mouth, throat and eyes.  The infection can spread through contact with the penis, vagina, mouth or anus.  Symptoms of Gonorrhea usually appear 2 to 5 days after contact with an infected partner however, some men might not notice symptoms for up to a month.  Symptoms in women may include vaginal discharge, burning or itching while urinating, painful sexual intercourse, sever pain in lower abdomen (if infection spreads to fallopian tubes), or fever (if infection spreads to fallopian tubes), however many women do not show any symptoms.  There are some antibiotic resistant strains for Gonorrhea but most cases can be cured with antibiotics.


Syphilis is an STI caused by a bacterium.  If acquired, syphilis needs to be treated adequately otherwise it can cause long-term complications and death.  Clinical manifestations of syphilis include the ulceration of the uro-genital tract, mouth or rectum; if left untreated the symptoms worsen.


Trichomoniasis is a common STI that is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.  Trichomoniasis affects both women and men, but symptoms are more common in women.  Most patients are treated with an antibiotic called metronidazole, which is very effective.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the body’s immune system which interferes with fighting off disease-causing agents.  HIV is carried in body fluids, and is spread by sexual activity.  It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, breastfeeding, childbirth and from mother to child during pregnancy.  When HIV is at its most advanced stage, an individual is said to have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).  There are antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) available to treat HIV infections.  There is no known cure for HIV or AIDS but the drugs help suppress the virus.  By suppressing the amount of virus in the body, people can lead longer and healthier lives.  Even though their virus levels may be low they can still spread the virus to others.


You can lower your risk of contracting an STD through appropriate preventative practices.  Vaccines are safe, effective and recommended ways to prevent hepatitis B and HPV.  Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is one of the most reliable ways to avoid STDs.  Reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk for STDs.  It is still important that you and your partner get tested and that you share your test results with one another.  Correct and consistent use of the male latex condom is highly effective in reducing STD transmission.

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