Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are infections that are passed from one person to another by sexual contact. Sexual contact includes vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral-genital contact, skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, kissing, and the use of sex aids such as vibrators. These diseases usually affect the genital area, including the penis or vagina. Examples of STDs are Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, Hepatitis B or C, Trichomoniasis, and HIV/AIDS.
STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic status. They are most common in people younger than 25, and the number of people affected by STDs is rising. Sometimes STDs do not cause symptoms, so a person who is infected may not know it and may transfer the infection to a sex partner. When diagnosed and treated early, many STDs can be cured. Some STDs caused by viruses, such as herpes, HIV, and genital warts, have no cure, but many treatments are available to lessen or avoid complications.
STDs are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites and are usually passed between partners during sex. The best way to prevent STDs is to avoid sexual contact. However, if you are sexually active here are some steps you should take to reduce your risk of contracting an STD: (a) delay having sexual relations as long as possible – the younger you are when you begin having sex, the more likely it is that you will develop an STD; (2) have just one sexual partner who you know does not have an infection and is not sexually active with anyone else; and (3) practice safe sex by always using condoms during any sexual contact.
If you are sexually active, have regular tests for STDs. If you think you may have an STD or might have been exposed to an STD, stop sexual activity and get a medical exam. Common symptoms of some STDs include burning or pain when urinating, strange-smelling discharge from the vagina or penis, and rashes, sores, blisters, or growths around the vagina, penis, or rectum.
You should not be embarrassed to seek care or ask for information. STD checks are a part of routine care at most medical practices and clinics. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications and keep you from spreading the disease to your partner. You can get more information and treatment from your healthcare professional, the state health department, or a family planning or STD clinic.
About certain STDs
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15-44. Any woman can get BV. Some women with BV don’t know they have it because they have no symptoms. Having BV can increase your chance of getting an STD. For more information on BV and treatments for BV, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States and can infect both men and women. It can cause severe and permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. This can make it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb). Women under 25 and older women with risk factors need testing every year. Chlamydia can be cured with the right treatment. For more information on chlamydia and treatments for chlamydia, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can cause serious complications when not treated but can be cured with the right medication. Sexually active women younger than 25 years or women with new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has an STD should be tested every year. Gonorrhea can be cured with the right medication. Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious health problems in both women and men. For more information on gonorrhea and treatments for gonorrhea, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. Viral hepatitis may be in the form of Hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E. For more information on hepatitis and treatments for hepatitis, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Genital herpes is a common STD, and most people with genital herpes infection do not know they have it. You can get genital herpes from an infected partner, even if your partner has no herpes symptoms. There is no cure for herpes, but medication is available to reduce symptoms and make it less likely that you will spread herpes to a sex partner. For more information on Genital Herpes and treatments for Genital Herpes, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening. All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated. There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause. For more information on HPV and treatments for HPV caused health problems, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. It is a complication often caused by some STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. If PID can be treated if it is diagnosed early. For more information on PID and treatments for PID, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated. Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). Without treatment, syphilis can spread to the brain and nervous system (neurosyphilis) or the eye (ocular syphilis). This can happen during any of the stages described above. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics. However, treatment will not undo any damage that the infection has already caused. For more information on syphilis and treatment for syphilis, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control
Trichomoniasis is an infection that both women and men can get. Many people who have trichomoniasis don’t know it. The infection often has no symptoms. It is easy to treat and cure. For more information on trichomoniasis and treatment for trichomoniasis, please see the following from the Centers for Disease Control .
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So, once you get HIV, you have it for life.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of T cells in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a week immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.
No effective cure currently exists, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. The medicine used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy or ART. If taken the right way, every day, this medicine can dramatically prolong the lives of many people infected with HIV, keep them healthy, and significantly lower their chance of infecting others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can live nearly as long as someone who does not have HIV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 13 to 64 years old gets tested for HIV at least once and that people at high risk of the infection get tested more often. Risk factors for HIV infection include: having unprotected sex (sex without a condom) with someone who is HIV positive or whose HIV status you don’t know; having sex with many partners; and injecting drugs and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug equipment with others. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for HIV as early as possible during each pregnancy.
[Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
About HIV Testing
The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and that people at high risk of infection get tested more often.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.
The HIV Antibody test shows if you have antibodies to HIV in your body. (HIV antibodies are a sign that HIV has entered your body.) A blood sample will be taken from you and be tested. If the first test shows that you have the antibodies, a different test will be done to make sure the first test was right. The test for HIV antibodies is extremely accurate and reliable. However, in rare instances, the test may be positive in individuals who are not infected with the virus (false positive), and occasionally it may be negative in persons infected with HIV (false negative), especially when infection occurred within the 3-6 months before testing.
A negative test means you’re probably not infected with HIV. But it takes the body time to produce HIV antibodies. It may just be too soon for the antibodies to be seen in the test. If you recently had sex without a condom or shared needles with someone who may be infected, you may want to be tested again in three to six months. Please talk to your doctor about this.
A positive confirmatory test result means you are infected with HIV. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have AIDS, but HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It also means you could give the virus to other people. People who are infected can pass the virus during sex or by sharing needles during drug use. A pregnant woman who is infected can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
If you test positive for HIV, you should see your primary care physician for a referral to an Infectious Disease physician or seek information from your local health department.
[Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Connecticut Department of Public Health]
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