Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases transmitted through sexual contact. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 19 million new cases occur annually in the US. Fifty percent of the new infections occur in people between the ages of 15 to 24 years.
Common types of STDs include the following.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection. People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases and to certain forms of cancer.
Transmission of the virus most often occurs during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts called condylomas, which can occur on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Because HPV infection does not always cause warts, the infection may go undetected.
Women with an HPV infection have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests can detect HPV infection, as well as abnormal cervical cells. An HPV vaccine is available to help prevent cervical cancer.
Although there is treatment for the genital warts (which sometimes go away on their own), the virus remains and warts can reappear. Certain types of HPV can also cause warts on other body parts such as the hands, called common warts; however, these do not generally cause health problems.
Chlamydial infections, the most common of all STDs, can affect both men and women. They may cause an abnormal genital discharge and burning with urination. In women, untreated chlamydial infection may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) . Chlamydial infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy. Unfortunately, many people with chlamydial infection have few or no symptoms of infection. The most common and serious complications occur in women and include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility.
Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina and painful or difficult urination. The most common and serious complications occur in women, and include pelvic inflammatory disease , ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility. Gonorrhea infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.
Genital herpes infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Symptoms may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time.
There is no cure for HSV but there are anti-viral agents to take that can shorten an outbreak and reduce symptoms.
The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears in or around the vagina. Untreated syphilis may go on to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and, eventually, serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system. Syphilis infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.
Other diseases that may be sexually transmitted include:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Cytomegalovirus infections
- Granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
- Lymphogranuloma venereum
- Molluscum contagiosum
- Pubic lice
- Vaginal yeast infections
Women suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs. Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease , which can lead to both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
STDs in women also may be associated with cervical cancer .
STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth. Some infections of the newborn may be successfully treated, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.
When diagnosed early, many STDs can be successfully treated.