Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually Transmitted Diseases Statistics
- The most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world are syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia — every year, there are at least 376 million new cases of one of them;
- More than 1 million STDs are acquired every day;
- At least 290 million have a HPV infection;
- Untreated maternal STDs lead to blindness in up to 4000 newborns every year;
What Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Sexually transmitted diseases, also called VD (venereal diseases) or STI (sexually transmitted infections) are infections that are passed from one person to another through all kinds of sexual contact, including but not limited to oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Sexual contact is not the only way to get an STD though. Some kinds of sexually transmitted diseases can also be passed through other ways like breastfeeding, blood transfusion or sharing the same needle.
Which Sexually Transmitted Diseases Exist?
There are quite a lot of infections that are considered to be sexually transmitted. Here are the most common of them.
Syphilis is one of the infections that can go unnoticed and lead to serious health complications if not treated properly in time. The first symptom to appear during the primary stage of syphilis is the appearance of a round painless sore on genitals, mouth, anus or hands, depending on the way the disease has entered the body. A syphilis sore is also known as a chancre. Without treatment, after 3-6 weeks, the disease can either develop to the secondary stage with more noticeable symptoms or to the latent stage when there are no noticeable symptoms for years though the carrier continues to stay contagious. General symptoms of syphilis during the second stage include:
- skin rash;
- swollen lymph glands;
- joint pain;
- weight and hair loss.
In rare cases, people can develop the tertiary stage of syphilis as well as neuro- and ocular syphilis which may lead to serious organ-lesion, severe headaches, loss of memory, hearing, and vision, heart diseases and death.
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease with little to none symptoms present in most cases. A small part of people with gonorrhea may experience:
- pain or burning when urinating or having sexual intercourse;
- green, yellow, or white discharge from vagina or penis;
- vaginal bleeding (between periods);
- sore throat;
- swollen testicles.
The important fact to know about gonorrhea is that it can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her child during the childbirth process. That’s why it’s important to get tested and treated if necessary as soon as a woman learns about her pregnancy.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections both in the US and in the world. Like many other STDs, chlamydia often shows no visible symptoms. When present, they may include:
- abnormal vaginal discharge or discharge from penis;
- pain and burning sensation during sex or urination;
- rectal pain;
- pain in the lower abdomen.
Like most of the sexually transmitted infections, chlamydia is especially dangerous for women and can lead to serious health problems including infertility and ectopic pregnancy. When transmitted to a newborn child from a mother, chlamydia may lead to pneumonia, eye infections, and even blindness.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by tiny parasites. In most cases, they enter the body through penis or vagina while transmission through oral or anal sex is unlikely. Less than one-third of people with trichomoniasis develop symptoms and most of them are women who can experience:
- “fishy” vaginal odor;
- unusual vaginal discharge;
- painful urinating;
- itchiness in the affected areas.
These and other symptoms appear within 5 to 28 days after being infected. Pregnant women diagnosed with trichomoniasis are at increased risk of preterm labor and low birth weight of a newborn.
Herpes simplex virus, genital herpes or just herpes is a common STI caused by one of two types of viruses: HSV-1 or HSV-2. In most cases, HSV-1 is responsible for oral herpes transmitted through non-sexual contact, the one that often causes cold sores and blisters on the mouth. Some cases of genital cases are caused by HSV-1 though and were spread from mouth to genitals during oral sex. HSV-2 is spread from one person to another with genital fluids or by skin-to-skin contact. Mouth or genital blisters are usually the only symptom of herpes: they come and go and are getting less painful with time. It doesn’t mean that herpes is not dangerous though — it can lead to complications and is especially riskful for newborns who can get herpes from their mothers.
HIV is one of the most dangerous sexually transmitted diseases if not diagnosed in time. It seriously damages immune system making it vulnerable to other diseases and may lead to AIDS, a terminal stage of HIV. In the early stages of the disease, it’s easy to confuse it with regular flu or cold as main symptoms include:
- swollen lymph glands;
- sore throat.
In most cases, these symptoms clear after around a month, making a person a symptomless carrier of a dangerous disease. Even though there is no cure for HIV, there is a treatment that can help those with HIV live a long and productive life and even remain safe for their sexual partners.
There are many strains of human papillomavirus — some of them are less dangerous while the other can lead to more serious diseases like cancer. In most cases, HPV goes away without showing any symptoms, though some strains may cause genital and mouth warts. It’s almost impossible to define when and how you get infected as HPV may stay symptomless for years and even decades so the only way to diagnose it is to get tested regularly. For everyone younger than 26 HPV vaccination is recommended.
While those above mentioned are the most common sexually transmitted diseases, there are also some other, less common. They include:
- pubic lice;
- granuloma inguinale;
- molluscum contagiosum.
What Are the Possible Complications of STD?
As many sexually transmitted diseases develop no or little symptoms, it may seem like they are not really dangerous and can be left untreated. In fact, untreated STDs may lead to serious health problems and even death. The most common complications caused by untreated sexually transmitted diseases include:
- pregnancy complications and infertility;
- pelvic inflammatory diseases;
- heart disease;
- eye infections.
Some infections like HPV may lead to oral, rectal, and cervical cancer while HIV may lead to AIDS — a deadly disease with no cure.
Who Is at Risk?
Every sexually active person is at risk of getting an STD to some extent. Nevertheless, there are factors that can increase your chances of getting infected:
- Having sexual contacts with many partners. The more partners you have — the more chances of getting STD you get.
- Having unprotected sex. Regardless of how many or how few sexual partners you have, having unprotected sex significantly increases your chances of getting an STD.
- Sharing a needle with potentially infected people. Some dangerous diseases, including HIV, are transmitted through sharing a needle for injections.
- Having a history of STDs. If you get one sexually transmitted infection, you are at risk of catching some more.
- Being involved in sex labor or being forced to have sexual activity. Those involved in sex labor or those who experienced rape or assault are another high-risk group for STDs.
How Are STDs Diagnosed?
It’s almost impossible to diagnose an STD basing on symptoms only — as you already know, most of the sexually transmitted infections either cause no symptoms or cause very similar symptoms which makes it impossible to tell one from another. To get the definite diagnosis, laboratory tests are needed. Your healthcare provider might recommend urine or blood test; a genital swab can also be performed. It’s important to get tested for STDs at least once a year if you are sexually active and once in 6 months if you are in a high-risk group.
How Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treated?
It depends on the type of STI that was diagnosed. Bacterial infections like chlamydia are successfully treated with antibiotics. Viral infections like HPV or herpes can’t be cured by can go away on their own in some cases. There are also ways to relieve symptoms and make the infections less contagious. Infections caused by parasites like pubic lice or trichomoniasis are treated with oral and topical medication. To decrease the chances of re-infecting, it’s vital to treat not only those diagnosed with an STD but their sexual partner(s) as well.
How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
The only way to completely prevent sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from any kinds of sexual activity. But if you are sexually active, there are still ways to at least reduce the risk.
- Use condoms for vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Latex condoms significantly reduce the risk of transmitting STDs when used properly. Never use a condom more than once and avoid using oil-based lubricants as they destroy latex.
- Reduce the number of partners and have them tested. Having sex with healthy partners or sticking to long term monogamous relationships is a reliable way of not getting an STD.
- Get tested regularly.
- Avoid taking drugs and drinking excessively.
- Think of getting circumcision if you are a man. It can reduce the chances of STD transmission.
And remember — early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment of any STD.