Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are caused by infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual contact.
These infections often do not cause any symptoms. Medically, infections are only called diseases when they cause symptoms. That is why STDs are also called “sexually transmitted infections.” But it’s very common for people to use the terms “sexually transmitted diseases” or “STDs,” even when there are no signs of disease.
The good news is we can protect ourselves and each other from STDs. Practicing safer sex allows you to reduce your risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases. And if you’ve done anything that puts you at risk of infection, getting tested allows you to get any treatments you may need.
Sexually transmitted infections include:
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. Symptoms in men include pain when urinating, and abnormal discharge from their penis. If left untreated in both men and women, 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 typically acquired orally and causes cold sores, HSV-2 is usually acquired during sexual contact and affects the genitals, however either strain may affect either site. 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 intercourse, 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 (Valtrex). Although HSV-1 is typically the “oral” version of the virus, and HSV-2 is typically the “genital” version of the virus, a person with HSV-1 orally CAN transmit that virus to their partner genitally. The virus, either type, will settle into a nerve bundle either at the top of the spine, producing the “oral” outbreak, or a second nerve bundle at the base of the spine, producing the genital outbreak.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
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. In 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 (bumps around the genitals that can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like cauliflower) 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. There are also two vaccines available for women (Cervarix and Gardasil) that protect against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. 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 men include burning and pain while urinating, increased urinary frequency, discharge from the penis (white, green, or yellow in color), red or swollen urethra, swollen or tender testicles, or sore throat. Symptoms in women may include vaginal discharge, burning or itching while urinating, painful sexual intercourse, severe 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. The virus kills CD4 cells, which are white blood cells that help fight off various infections. HIV is carried in body fluids, and is spread by sexual activity. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood, breast feeding, 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 different stages of the progression of and HIV infection. The stages include primary infection, asymptomatic infection, symptomatic infection, and AIDS. In the primary infection stage, an individual will have flu like symptoms (headache, fatigue, fever, muscle aches) for about 2 weeks. In the asymptomatic stage, symptoms usually disappear, and the patient can remain asymptomatic for years. When HIV progresses to the symptomatic stage, the immune system is weakened, and has a low cell count of CD4+ T Cells. When the HIV infection becomes life-threatening, it is called AIDS. People with AIDS fall prey to opportunistic infections and die as a result. When the disease was first discovered in the 1980s, those who had AIDS were not likely to live longer than a few years. There are now 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.