Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), also known as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), are infections that are passed from one person to another through intimate physical contact and from sexual activity including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Infections start as STIs and turn in to STDs, if left untreated. Many experts prefer to use the term STI, because you can have an infection without the disease’s symptoms. 

STIs are very common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 20 million new infections occur in the United States every year. After colds and flu, STIs are the most common contagious infections. Most STIs affect both men and women, but in many cases the health problems they cause are more severe for women. If a woman is pregnant and has an STI, it can cause serious health problems for the baby. There are many types of STIs. However, some infections like Zika and Ebola are more often spread through other ways. 

General Symptoms

STI symptoms are not always obvious. If you thin you have infection symptoms or have been exposed to an STI, see a doctor. Some STI are easy to treat and cure; others require more-complicated treatment to manage them.

Even with no symptoms, you can pass the infection to your sex partners. It is important to use protection, such as a condom, during sex.

For some infections. symptoms may not start until one to three weeks after exposure.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Thick, cloudy, or bloody genital discharge (for both men and women)
  • Pain during sexual intercourse in women
  • Bleeding between periods in women
  • Testicular pain or swelling  in men
  •  Pain or burning during urination
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Strong odors
  • Itching and irritation

Types Of STIs

  • Chlamydia
  • Genital Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Syphilis
  • Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Trichomoniasis
  •  Viral Hepatitis
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (caused by untreated STDs)
  • Zika – In most cases, it is spread by mosquitoes, but can be transmitted sexually.
  • Others include – Scabies, Chancroid, Pubic Lice

Causes

There are three major causes of STDs/STIs:
  • Bacteria infections (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis)
  • Viruses (HIV, Herpers simplex virus, Human Papillomavirus, Hepatitis B virus
  •  Parasites (Trichomonas vaginalis, crab lice, scabies mites)
Any STI can be spread through sexual activity, as well as, contaminated needles. No matter how a person was exposed, once infected by an STI, they can spread the infection to other people through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, even if they have no symptoms.

Syphilis Signs and Symptoms

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects your genitals, skin, and mucous membranes. It can also involve other parts of you body, including your brain and your heart. There are four stages to the signs and symptoms of syphilis – primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. There’s also a condition called congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant woman with syphilis passes the disease to her unborn infant. Congenital syphilis can be disabling and even life-threatening. It is important for a pregnant woman with syphilis to be treated. 

Neurosyphilis – When syphilis affects the nervous systems – can occur at any stage. There may be no signs or symptoms, or it can cause:

  • Headache
  • Behavior changes
  • Movement problems

Primary Syphilis – The first signs occur 10 days to three months after exposure. The may be one or more small, painless sores (chancre) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted, usually genitals, rectum, tongue or lips. The sore typically heals without treatment, but the underlying disease remains, and may reappear in the other stages

Secondary Syphilis – Signs and symptoms of the secondary stage may begin three to six weeks after the chancre appears. These signs may disappear without treatment within a few weeks or repeatedly come and go for as long as a year. Symptoms may include:

  • Rash marked by red or reddish-brown, penny-sized sores over any area of your body 
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue and a vague feeling of discomfort
  • Soreness and aching

Latent Syphilis – This stage is a period of no symptoms occurring after the secondary stage. Signs and symptoms may never return, or the disease will progress to the tertiary stage. 

Tertiary Syphilis – Without treatment, syphilis bacteria may spread, leading to serious organ damage and death years after the original infection. Some signs and symptoms include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Numbness
  • Dementia
  • Paralysis
  • Blindness

HIV Signs and Symptoms

HIV is an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungi. HIV can lead to AIDS, a chronic, life-threatening disease. When first infected with HIV, you may have no symptoms. Some people develop a flu-like illness, usually two to six weeks after being infected. The only way you can  know if you have HIV is to be tested.
 

Early HIV signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Rash
  • Fatigue

These early signs usually disappear within a week to a month and are ofter mistaken for other viral infections. During this period, you’re highly infectious. More persistent or severe symptoms of an HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection. 

As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infection or chronic signs and symptoms:

  • Swollen lymph nodes – often one of the first sings of HIV infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Cough and shortness of breath

Late-stage HIV infection Signs and symptoms:

  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4°F for several weeks
  • Swelling of lymph nodes for more than three months
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Persistent headaches
  • Unusual, opportunistic infections

Prevention

Correct usage of condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading STDs. The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

Treatment

Antibiotics can treat STDs caused by bacteria, yeast, or parasites. There is no cure for STD caused by a virus, but medicines can often help with symptoms and keep the disease under control.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Resources

Links to various resources on the topics discuss on this page. 

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