Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are disease of the body that are acquired through sexual activity. In the past, these diseases were known as “venereal diseases” or VD. Today, most healthcare practitioners are moving toward the term “sexually transmitted infections” because many people are asymptomatic when they acquire these infections but later develop full-blown disease symptoms.
What Causes STDs?
There are three major pathogens that cause STDs: bacterial, parasites, and viruses. The Centers for Disease Control recognize ten common sexually transmitted disease although there are others that are less widespread.
- Bacterial Vaginosis – Although the CDC recognizes BV as a sexually-transmitted disease, it can also be acquired in women who are not sexually active. It is very common in pregnant women. BV is a bacterial infection of the vagina that is caused by disruption of the normal balance of bacteria. The causes are imperfectly understood, but the condition can be treated with antibiotics.
- Chlamydia – is the most common bacterial STD in the United States. Over 1.4 million cases were reported in 2011, but experts estimate that there are actually twice that number of people currently infected. Chlamydia may affect as many as one in 15 sexually active females between 14 and 19 years of age. Chlamydia can cause infertility in women and is associated with easier acquisition of the AIDS virus. Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia.
- Gonorrhea – In 2011, the CDC received reports of 321,000 new cases of gonorrhea, although healthcare experts estimate that there are currently more than twice that number of infections. Gonorrhea is usually asymptomatic in women, who can pass it to their partners without their knowledge. Antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea are on the rise, so treatment should always be performed by a healthcare professional.
- Viral hepatitis – affects the liver of those who contract it and can be a very dangerous disease. Hepatitis is classified as A, B or C based on the type of virus that causes it. Hepatitis A is not considered a chronic disease, meaning that patients suffer from it briefly then recover. However, Hepatitis B can be either short-term or chronic, and Hepatitis C is always chronic. In serious cases, hepatitis can lead to death. Antiviral therapy is developing for treatment, but there is no cure for this viral disease.
- Genital Herpes – is a viral disease caused by sexual exposure. It presents as an outbreak of sores on the genitals or in the mouth. These outbreaks will recur periodically throughout life and the disease can be passed to a partner even when no sores are present. There is no cure for herpes, but drugs have been developed to shorten the length of outbreaks and to reduce the chance of spread to others.
- HIV/AIDS – HIV is the virus that causes Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. This deadly disease is incurable, although antiviral drugs have helped to lessen the symptoms and development of the disease in many people, particularly children born to HIV-positive mothers. HIV can be contracted through sexual activity or drug use as well as blood transfusions.
- HPV – or human papilloma virus is the virus that causes genital warts and is the most common STI in the United States. Millions of people are infected with one of the 40 forms of HPV. HPV is contracted through sexual contact, although it may be years before the condition is diagnosed. While there is no cure for HPV, there are vaccines that can lessen a girl’s chances of contracting the disease, which can lead to infertility.
- Syphilis – is a bacterial infection that is easy to treat in its early stages but difficult to control once it has spread throughout the body. Syphilis often causes a body rash on the trunk or palms and a painless sore on the genitals.
- Trichomoniasis – caused by a parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis. It can be easily cured with medication, but many people do not realize they have this infection because they show no symptoms.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have an STD?
There are treatments available for most STDs. The important thing to remember is that you should be checked regularly for STDs if you are sexually active. Even if you use protection such as condoms, you may still be exposed to a disease without your knowledge. If you have any symptoms such as burning upon urination, fever or general malaise, you may also want to be checked by a physician. Pregnant women should immediately disclose any information about previous STDs to their doctors, as well.