Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are viral or bacterial infections that are spread by sexual contact. There are at least 29 different STDs. Except for colds and flu, STDs are the most common contagious diseases in the United States, with millions of new cases reported each year.
Although some STDs can be cured, others cannot. You can, however, control and treat the symptoms of all STDs. If you think you may have an STD, talk with your Capital Women's Care doctor so that an effective treatment plan can be developed.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two of the most common STDs. They are caused by bacteria and often occur at the same time. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are transmitted through vaginal, anal, and sometimes oral sex.
Many women infected with these two STDs have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may appear two to three weeks after contact with an infected person.
Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. Left untreated, gonorrhea can spread throughout your body and lead to arthritis, heart disease, and brain damage. Gonorrhea can also increase the transmission of HIV.
Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea and chlamydia. Your symptoms generally improve within 24 hours, but you can transmit both gonorrhea and chlamydia until you are completely free of infection.
It is important to remember that all sexual partners need to be tested and treated (even if they have no symptoms) to prevent becoming infected again. Also, having gonorrhea and chlamydia once does not prevent you from becoming infected in the future.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common STDs; more than 100 types of this virus have been identified. Some types of this virus are passed from person to person through vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Like many STDs, there are often no signs that you are infected with HPV. However, a few types of HPV cause warts to appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix, and anus. The warts are flat or raised; pink, white, or brown; and may appear as a few tiny bumps or in clusters.
Genital warts can be destroyed or removed through freezing, surgery, injection of medication, or the application of topical creams. In addition, there is now an HPV vaccine that protects you against the two types of HPV that cause the most cases of genital warts.
There is no cure for HPV so takes steps to prevent becoming infected:
Because genital warts are caused by a virus, they can reoccur; therefore, it is important that both partners are treated. It is also important to use a condom at all times during intercourse to reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Some types of HPV are linked to cancer of the cervix. This type of cancer develops over a long period of time. HPV causes cells on or around the cervix to become abnormal. In some cases, these cells may progress to precancerous.
While there is no cure for HPV, there is a vaccine available that protects you against the two types of HPV that cause the most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine triggers a woman's immune system to fight off these viruses if she is exposed to them.
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that is potentially life threatening. In addition to being transmitted though vaginal, oral, and anal sex, syphilis can also be transmitted through contact with syphilis sores on an infected person.
Most people have no early symptoms of syphilis. The first sign of this STD may be a painless, smooth sore at the site of the infection. The sores are typically small, raised, and smooth and often heal on their own.
The second stage of the infection usually begins two to six weeks after your sores heal. Symptoms may include fever, headache, aching joints, and a skin rash. After this stage, you may go through another period in which there are no symptoms.
Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores often occur on the genitals or in the vagina, anus, or rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and mouth.
Syphilis is easily treated with penicillin in its initial stages. If syphilis isn't treated, it can spread throughout your body, eventually causing nerve and brain damage, blindness, heart abnormalities, and even death.
Without treatment, your symptoms may go away, but the disease will remain. Years later, it will return with full force. Therefore, it is important that you are tested periodically to ensure that the infection has been totally cleared from your body.
Genital herpes is a viral infection that causes sores on or around the genitals. The sores appear as red spots, bumps, or blisters. They can last from a few days to a few weeks. The sores go away by themselves, but the virus remains in your body. The sores can come back at any time, usually in the same place they first occurred.
Herpes is highly contagious and can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with the affected area, even when there are no visible signs of the infection. The disease is even more contagious when there are visible sores. Therefore, completely avoid vaginal, oral, or anal sex when you or your partner has any symptoms of herpes.
Treatment can help heal the sores, but it cannot kill the herpes virus. Once you have herpes, you can transmit the disease to others without knowing it. Therefore, always use a condom and/or dental dam during sex.
Hepatitis is a serious infection of the liver caused by a virus. Two types of hepatitis, B and C, can be sexually transmitted. They can be spread by direct contact with the body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids) of an infected person. Some people are carriers of the virus - though they show no symptoms, they can transmit the virus to other people.
Most people with hepatitis have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include:
There is a vaccine available to prevent infection with hepatitis B. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection. Many people infected with hepatitis recover completely; however, some people develop chronic liver infections, which can lead to long-term health problems.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The rate of HIV infection is increasing most rapidly among women who have sex with men.
HIV can be transmitted through:
Once HIV is in your blood, it invades and kills cells of your immune system, your body's natural defense against disease. Once infected, you may have no symptoms for many years, while the virus continues to weaken your immune system. Eventually the virus develops into AIDS, a condition in which your immune system is so weakened that other life-threatening conditions, such as infections or cancer, can occur.
Because there is no cure for HIV, it is important to be tested any time you take part in sexual activity you consider to be risky.