Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)
What Is a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?
A sexually transmitted disease, also referred to as an STD, sexually transmitted infections, or venereal diseases, are not conditions that are often discussed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these conditions affect millions of people in our country. Because statistics demonstrate that women are among the most severely impacted by STDs, the conversation regarding screening and prevention is one of the most important aspects of women’s health care.
In many cases, an STD may develop without presenting clear symptoms. Those that do occur, if they occur, are related to the type of infection that has occurred.
An STD may present physical symptoms such as itching or sores, or it may occur without symptoms. HPV, for example, is a common infection that can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, and yet offer no indication of disease. Hepatitis is another example of a somewhat asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease. This condition affects the liver and may incite symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and nausea.
See your healthcare provider if you suspect you have been exposed to an STD, or if you or your partner have symptoms such as:
- Unexplained rash.
- Growths, blisters, or bumps in the genital area, including the vagina and external genitalia, the penis, and the testicles, and the area between the testicles or vagina and the anus.
- Frequent urination or burning sensation with urination.
- Bleeding in between periods.
- Painful intercourse.
- Vaginal or penile discharge outside of sexual intercourse.
Every person who is sexually active is encouraged to obtain STD testing. Age is not a determining factor, nor is the type of sexual intercourse or sexual orientation. Vaginal, anal, and oral sexual contact creates a risk for sexually transmitted disease in both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
STD screening is vital because it is possible to become infected and pass along infection to your partner without your knowledge.
STD screening can be an important part of your routine checkup with your gynecologist. If you have unprotected sex and want to be tested, speak with your healthcare provider about appropriate timing. It can take several days to several weeks for the infection to develop. Testing too soon could mean an inaccurate result.
Types of STD’S
A bacterial STD is a type of infection that is caused by living organisms (bacteria). This type of infection may develop without providing warning signs. For this reason, it is important for sexually active men and women to stay up-to-date with physical checkups with their primary health provider. Most bacterial sexually-transmitted infections are passed through direct sexual contact.
A viral STD is a type of infection that originates with an infectious agent or virus. For a viral STD to spread, the infectious agent must permeate a living cell. Viral STDs are concerning due to the fact that they can spread through direct sexual contact as well as non-sexual contact with an infected individual. Infants may be infected with a viral STD during childbirth or breastfeeding if the mother is infected. Blood transfusions are another pathway for viral STDs to spread. Finally, sharing IV drug instruments or, on rare occasions, straws or other objects, with a person affected by a viral STD may lead to infection.
Bacterial STD Treatment
In most instances, a sexually-transmitted infection that has been caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics. Early treatment is advantageous because whether it is bacterial or not, an STD can lead to long-term consequences if the infection advances without proper care. While bacterial STDs most often respond well to a course of antibiotics, there is a potential for recurrence after initial infection.
Viral STD Treatment
There is no cure for sexually-transmitted infections caused by viruses. Treatment is provided to diminish symptoms only. For this reason, it is crucial to practice safe-sex using a condom. Two types of viral STD, Hepatitis B and HPV, now have vaccines that reduce the risk of contraction.
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that may spread through any kind of sexual contact (oral, vaginal, or anal) with an infected individual. Occasionally, Syphilis is spread through simple physical touch of the genitals. This STD may manifest as a persistent but painless sore, often in the genital area or in the mouth. As infection progresses, flu-like symptoms may be experienced. If not properly treated, Syphilis can increase the risk of other STDs by lowering immunity. There is also the risk of heart damage, brain damage, blindness, and death. This STD can be treated with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is most often spread through sexual contact. There is also a risk of transmission during pregnancy. One of the concerns related to gonorrhea is the lack of symptoms that may occur during early infection. Symptoms to be aware of include bleeding between periods, painful intercourse, burning during urination, vaginal or penile discharge, and swelling and tenderness of the testicles. If the infection progresses without treatment, fertility may be adversely affected. Additional risks include skin diseases, heart disease, arthritis, and blindness. Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that may be passed from one person to another during sexual contact. During pregnancy, it is possible for a fetus to contract chlamydia from an infected mother. Like several other STDs, chlamydia may produce no symptoms while the infection is still immature. As the STD progresses, the infected individual may experience vaginal or penile discharge, bleeding in between periods, testicular swelling or tenderness, painful intercourse, or a burning sensation during urination. Untreated, chlamydia increases the risk of other STD infections and of infertility in women. This infection is treatable with antibiotics.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a generally harmless viral STD that may resolve on its own. With over 40 different variations to affect the genital area, this is the most common STD to be diagnosed. In many cases, HPV presents no symptoms. Due to the risk of genital warts and an increased potential for cancer, it is important to identify the warning signs of this STD. Genital warts may be the first indicator, and an abnormal Pap test also may indicate the presence of the human papillomavirus. There is no treatment to cure HPV. Medical care consists of attending to the consequences of this STD. For example, genital warts can be removed, and treatment may be conducted to treat cervical cancer.
Do I Need to Be Screened for STDs If I’m a Virgin?
There is a common theory that one is a virgin if she does not have vaginal intercourse. Sexually transmitted diseases can be passed from one partner to another via oral or anal sex, as well. Some infections can be spread through genital contact. Therefore, if you have had any type of sexual contact with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner, STD screening is recommended.
If My Partner and I Use Condoms, Should we Get Tested for STDs?
Condoms are not 100% effective against all sexually transmitted diseases, though they do provide the best protection that is available. A condom may decrease your risk of contracting fluid-borne STD, one that is present in vaginal secretions or semen. However, a condom provides minimal protection against infections that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
It is ideal for both partners to obtain STD screening, whether together or separately; but at or near the same time. One infected partner puts the other at risk, even if that partner is treated for his or her infection. Single-partner testing can create an endless cycle of infection.
Are Public Toilets a Risk Factor for Contracting an STD?
Research suggests that public restrooms are not high-risk contributors to sexually transmitted disease, even those passed through skin-to-skin contact.