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Women's Health

Sexually Transmitted Infections and Diseases

NetWellness experts have received many questions about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs). STIs and STDs are infections and diseases that are passed sexually from person to person. All kinds of sex,  vaginal, anal, and oral, have the potential to spread infections and diseases. For this reason being tested before taking part in sexual activity with a new partner and practicing safe sex with that partner is very important.

The range of severity in symptoms and consequences of sexually transmitted diseases and infections is very large. Symptoms can be as benign as burning during urination or as severe as chronic pain. Consequences can be as small as a trip to the doctor for complete treatment or as grave as infertility, shortened lifespan, and/or chronic illness. Both for your safety and the safety of your partner or partners, it is important to keep current with STD tests and to be able to recognize when you may possibly have acquired an STD.

In this feature you will find information on the following:

 

Symptoms

Some common symptoms of STDs and STIs are:

Finally, it is important to know what is out there in terms of STDs and STIs and to understand how these diseases and infections work. Being educated about the risks will help you to remain safe and healthy. Next you will find a list and description of some of the most common STDs and STIs today.

 

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STD in the United States today. The highest rates of chlamydial infection are in 15- to 19-year-old adolescents. Chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact with an infected partner. A pregnant woman may pass the infection to her newborn during delivery, resulting in neonatal eye infection or pneumonia.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious complication of chlamydial infection, has emerged as a major cause of infertility among women of childbearing age.

 

Genital Herpes/HSV

Genital herpes is a contagious viral infection that affects an estimated one out of four (or 45 million) Americans. The infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV, and both can cause genital herpes. HSV type 1 most commonly causes sores on the lips (known as fever blisters or cold sores), but it can cause genital infections as well. HSV type 2 most often causes genital sores, but it also can infect the mouth.

Both HSV 1 and 2 can produce sores in and around the vaginal area, on the penis, around the anal opening, and on the buttocks or thighs. Occasionally, sores also appear on other parts of the body where broken skin has come into contact with HSV. The virus remains in certain nerve cells of the body for life, causing periodic symptoms in some people.

Genital herpes infection usually is acquired by sexual contact with someone who unknowingly is having an asymptomatic outbreak of herpes sores in the genital area. People with oral herpes can transmit the infection to the genital area of a partner during oral-genital sex. Herpes infections also can be transmitted by a person who is infected with HSV who has noticeable symptoms.

 

Genital Warts/HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of STDs in the world. There are many different types of HPV. Some types of the virus cause common skin warts. About one-third of the HPV types is spread through sexual contact and lives only in genital tissue. Low-risk types of HPV cause genital warts, the most recognizable sign of genital HPV infection. Other high-risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer and other genital cancers.

Like many sexually transmitted organisms, HPV usually causes a silent infection, that is, one that does not have visible symptoms. One study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)reported that almost half of the women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. Because the viral infection persists, individuals may not be aware of their infection or the potential risk of transmission to others and of developing complications.

 

Gonorrhea

Approximately 400,000 cases of gonorrhea are reported to the CDC each year in this country. The most common symptoms of infection are a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination. The most common and serious complications occur in women and, as with chlamydial infection, these complications include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.

Historically, penicillin has been used to treat gonorrhea, but in the last decade, four types of antibiotic resistance have emerged. New antibiotics or combinations of drugs must be used to treat these resistant strains.

 

Syphilis

The incidence of syphilis has increased in recent years. The first symptoms of infection may go undetected because they are very mild and disappear spontaneously. The initial symptom is an often painless, open sore that commonly appears on the penis or around or in the vagina. It can also occur near the mouth, anus, or on the hands.

If untreated, syphilis may go on to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and, eventually, serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system. The full course of the disease can take years. Penicillin remains the most effective drug to treat people with syphilis.

 

Hepatitis (A,B,C and D)

Hepatitis A is a cause of acute hepatitis. Fewer than five percent of infections are transmitted through fecal-oral contact during sexual intercourse, mostly among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is an STD with severe complications, including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver carcinoma. Of approximately 200,000 new HBV infections in the United States each year, approximately half are transmitted through sexual intercourse.

Hepatitis C virus, the most common cause of non-A non-B hepatitis, causes chronic liver disease in most infected adults. The efficiency of sexual and perinatal transmission of this virus, however, is much less than that for HBV or HIV.

Hepatitis D (delta) virus is a virus that can be sexually transmitted but requires the presence of hepatitis B virus to replicate. Although hepatitis D virus can be transmitted sexually, it is less efficiently transmitted through sexual intercourse compared to HBV.

At present, there are no specific treatments for the acute symptoms of viral hepatitis. Doctors recommend bed rest, a healthy diet, and avoidance of alcoholic beverages. A genetically engineered form of a naturally occurring protein, interferon alpha, is used to treat people with chronic hepatitis C. Studies supported by the National Institutes of Health led to the approval of interferon alpha for the treatment of those with chronic HBV as well.

Most of these diseases can be prevented by using protection during sex. It is also important to be tested regularly and be communicative and honest with your partner or partners about your health status.

 

HIV and AIDS

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can develop into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The two are grouped together so often because of this relationship and because they are both acquired and avoided in the same way.

People with HIV or AIDS have increasingly weakened immune systems. This means that diseases that they would have easily survived when they were well or would never have gotten can make them sick and even kill them once they have been infected with HIV/AIDS. Many treatments exist today that can help people suffering from HIV and AIDS to live longer lives with fewer health complications. Doctors all over the world are working hard to make improvements.

HIV is transmitted through exposure to blood and bodily fluids. Engaging in sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal), oral sex, and sharing needles with infected people can spread the disease.

Related Resources:

American Sexual Health Association

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Last Reviewed: Aug 07, 2014

Jonathan  A Schaffir, MD Jonathan A Schaffir, MD
Clnical Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University