What Is a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?
Sexually transmitted diseases, commonly called STDs, are diseases that are spread by having sex with someone who has an STD. STDs (venereal diseases) are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States today. STDs are sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted infections, since these conditions involve the transmission of an infectious organism between sex partners. More than 20 different STDs have been identified, and about 19 million men and women are infected each year in the United States. Some of the more common STDs include Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes, Trichomoniasis, and HIV.
Depending on the disease, the infection can be spread through any type of sexual activity involving the sex organs, the anus, or the mouth; an infection can also be spread through contact with blood during sexual activity. STDs are infrequently transmitted by other types of contact (blood, body fluids, and unsterilized needles).
STDs have become more common in recent years, partly because people are becoming sexually active at a younger age, are having multiple partners, and do not use preventive methods to lessen their chance of acquiring an STD. People can pass STDs to sexual partners even if they themselves do not have any symptoms. Mothers can pass an STD to her baby before, during, or immediately after birth.
The most common STD symptoms are:
- Painful urination and pain during sexual intercourse
- Itchy, sore and irritated genital area
- Unusual and abnormal discharge from vagina/penis (may be colored/with odor)
- Blisters or sores around genitals and anus
- Vaginal bleeding after sex
- Pain in lower abdominal
- Low fever and flu-like symptoms
- Pain in the testicles
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Urge to urinate often
Although the above mentioned symptoms are helpful in detecting STD, the only reliable method is medical tests. Thus, annual medical check-up is highly advisable for sexually active people.
As the signs of STD aren’t always obvious, even minor symptoms or one of them are worth paying a visit to a doctor. If a person believes he or she may have an STD or if he or she may have been exposed to someone with an STD, a medical examination is recommended. Early stages of most STD are easy to cure although some of them require long-term treatment. Whichever disease is being diagnosed and treated it is crucial to inform the partner and to encourage them to undergo the check-up.
Being seen by a doctor as soon as possible after exposure to an STD is important; these infections can easily spread to others and can have serious complications.
Some STDs can be diagnosed without any tests at all. Other STDs require a blood test or a sample of any unusual fluid to be analyzed in a lab to help establish a diagnosis. Some tests are completed while a person waits; other tests require a few days before a person may obtain the results.
The treatment of an STD varies depending on the type of STD. Some STDs require a person to take antibiotic medication either by mouth or by injection; other STDs require a person to apply creams or special solutions on the skin. Often, reexamination by a doctor is necessary after the treatment to confirm that the STD is completely gone.
Some STDs, such as genital herpes and HIV (which leads to AIDS), cannot be cured, only controlled with medication.
STDs can be broken down into 3 categories:
- STDs caused by bacteria. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis and are easily treated with antibiotics. Often one dose is enough to cure the disease but if the whole course is prescribed it is highly important to stick to it and comply with the therapy schedule.
- STDs caused by parasites like Trichomonas vaginalis which brings on Trichomoniasis are also cured by antibiotics, anti-parasitic drugs or medicated shampoos.
- Viral STDs (genital herpes, HIV, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B) cannot be cured completely but orderly treatment can help keeping the virus under control for a consistent period of time.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Follow-up
If diagnosed with an STD, follow these guidelines:
- Seek treatment to stop the spread of the disease.
- Notify sexual contacts and urge them to have a checkup.
- Take all of the prescribed medication, even if symptoms stop before all of the prescribed medication(s) are taken.
- Many times follow-up tests are important to be sure the problem is solved.
- Avoid sexual activity while being treated for an STD.