Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or STD’s, are the second most common infectious disease in the United States. The common cold and flu are the only contagious diseases that occur more frequently. The risk of getting a STD greatly increases with the number of sexual partners you or your partner currently have or have had in the past. Even if it is your first time and your partner has had sex with one or two others (and those one or two others have had sex with one or two others, etc.), you have for practical purposes had sex with many partners.

Any intimate contact that involves the genitals, mouth, or rectum can cause an STD.

The different STD’s cause different problems. Additionally, a particular infection may affect one person differently than another. In women, the effects can range from a local vaginal infection to life-threatening serious problems such as cancer, infertility, and AIDS. Certain STD’s can infect a fetus (unborn child) or a newborn.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There are over 20 types of STD’s.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Two of the more common STD’s are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Chlamydia infects 3-5 million women and men each year and gonorrhea about 1 million per year. These initially cause infection of the cervix (cervicitis), and in about 10% of the cases cause pelvic inflammatory disease or PID. This is an infection that affects the uterus, tubes, and ovaries. PID can cause:

  • infertility (difficulty getting pregnant),
  • pelvic pain,
  • ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that grows in the tube and is usually removed surgically), or
  • can be passed on to the newborn child.

Condyloma and HPV

Condyloma accuminatum is another common STD seen today.  It is caused by a virus called low-risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) but has no relationship to HIV.  It can cause genital warts in both females and males on the sex organs.  High-risk HPV is responsible for pre-cancer or cancer of the cervix in the female. Regular exams by the females infected with HPV can significantly reduce the likelihood of cancer. Go to PAP Smears and HPV for a detailed discussion.
The warts and abnormal cells of the cervix can be treated, but there currently is no cure for the virus. A vaccine (Gardasil®) given to young women and men can reduce the transmission of certain types of HPV.  Occasionally, the newborn child can be infected at the time of delivery, resulting in warts on the vocal cords. Also we are seeing more cases off throat cancer associated with high risk HPV.

Herpes

Another STD caused by a virus is genital herpes. Both women and men have sores on or around the genital organs. The sores are usually very painful at the time of initial infection but are usually not as painful with recurrent episodes. The sores may be present from a few days to several weeks. After they are gone, the virus remains in the body and may cause recurrent infections. On rare occasions a newborn infant may be infected if the mother has an active infection. There is no cure for genital herpes, but drugs are available to decrease the frequency and severity of the infection.

Syphilis

Syphilis has been know for hundreds of years and is becoming more common today. With the initial infection, a painless sore (chancre) is usually present for a few weeks. Later, a rash develops and subsides after several months. Even years later, the disease can return in full force and cause severe damage to the heart, blood vessels, and nervous system. The disease can have severe effects on a pregnancy. Especially in the earlier stages, syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics.

AIDS

HIV (human immune deficiency virus) infection can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV can be transmitted by sexual contact, infected blood, and other body secretions. HIV can be transmitted to the unborn child. Many new drugs are being developed to treat HIV and AIDS, but a cure is not yet available.

Hepatitis

Another viral infection that can be sexually transmitted is Hepatitis B. Although some patients recover from hepatitis B, it is a very serious infection that can also cause death.

Other STD’s

Other less serious STD’s include pubic lice and scabes. These tiny parasites infest the pubic hair and cause itching. They are most often transmitted by sexual contact but can be transmitted by contact with bedding and clothing which harbors the parasites. Trichomonas is a local vaginal infection that causes a discharge with an odor. Both the parasite infection and trichomonas are easily treated with medication.

Preventing STD’s

Modern medicine can fix a lot of problems, but those associated with STD’s are not always fixable. The only fool proof way not to get an STD is not to have sexual intercourse. If you do have sex, the following suggestions will help you reduce the risk of getting a STD, or catch it when it can be effectively treated.

Know the Symptoms of STD’s

Swelling, redness, pain, itching, a sore, rash, or discharge in the genital area may be symptoms of a STD. Although they usually do not mean you have an STD, you should see your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment. Low abdominal or pelvic pain may indicate PID. If in doubt, see your physician. Also, do not have sex with anyone who has these symptoms.

Know and Limit Your Sexual Partners

Having sex with someone you do not know well increases the chance of getting STD’s. Having sex with someone exposes you to the partners he or she has had. Persons who have had many sexual partners are at greater risk of STD’s than those who limit their sexual partners.

Talk With Your Partner About STD’s

Many people find it difficult to talk about sexual topics including STD’s. But it can benefit you both if you do. Simply ask your partner if he or she has ever had a STD or has ever been exposed to one. If the answer is “yes,” get the details of treatment and “cure.” Many couples are now wisely getting tests for HIV and hepatitis before engaging in sexual activity.

Use Condoms

Condoms are not foolproof but can reduce the chance of infection if used properly. Use condoms even if you are on the birth control pill. Condoms made of latex are the most effective way to protect against viruses. Never use any oils as lubricants since these substances can dissolve the latex. Use of the condom: The rolled-up condom should be placed over the tip of the penis. Hold the end of the condom so there is a little extra space at the tip. Unroll the condom over the penis. Immediately after ejaculation (climax) grasp the condom around the base of the penis as it is withdrawn. The condom should not be reused.

Use a Spermacide

Nonoxynol-9 is a spermacide that can help guard against some STD’s. It is found in birth control foams, jellies, creams, and as a lubricant with some condoms.

Avoid Risky Sex Practices

Any sexual practice that tears or breaks the skin increases the risk of STD’s. Anal sex is especially risky because of the fragile tissues in the rectum.

If you have any questions or concerns about STD’s, do not hesitate to contact your physician.

The information provided by Advanced Healthcare for Women and E. Daniel Biggerstaff, III, M.D. is for informational purposes only. As each woman is unique, do not rely on this information for diagnosis and treatment. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the content and advise that you see a qualified Health Care Professional for individual needs and care.

 Advanced Healthcare for Women
5354 Reynolds Street, Suite 518
Candler Professional Building
Savannah, Georgia 31405
 
Telephone 912-355-7717
Fax 912-355-0979
gyndoc@bellsouth.net