Sexually Transmitted Diseases

WHAT ARE STDS? HOW DO YOU GET THEM?

STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) are conditions acquired or spread through activities involving intimate bodily contact with an infected person. Activities which involve the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen or vaginal fluid, are primary causes of transmission. These include sexual intercourse as well as oral and anal sex and the sharing of needles for drug use. Even intimate skin-to-skin contact may be risky. STDs are usually not spread by casual contact such as sharing drinking glasses, toilet seats, clothing or towels. Examples of STDs are: trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, condyloma/genital warts, (human papilloma virus or HPV), herpes, molluscum contagiosum, hepatitis B, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE AN STD?

Some STDs may have no symptoms at all at first, and symptoms can vary with the type of STD. Possible symptoms include:

  • painful, itchy or painless bumps, blisters or sores in the genital area
  • rash, most notably on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • discharge from the vagina or penis that may be irritating, odorous or yellow
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • tingling or itching in the genital area
  • swollen glands in the groin
  • painful urination
  • pelvic pain
  • flu-like symptoms or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)

WHAT ABOUT TESTING & TREATMENT?

Your health care provider can perform or order testing for most STDs and treatment is available for most. Some STDs, such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, can be cured by antibiotics. Others such as genital warts, herpes, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS have no cure as yet, but symptoms can be controlled with a variety of treatments. A vaccine is available for hepatitis B. It is important that sexual partners also be tested and/or treated because partners can be infected with STDs, have no symptoms and be carriers of the disease

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T GET TREATMENT?

Treatment is essential to prevent:

  • the spread to sexual partners;
  • the spread of the infection upward leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and increased risk for tubal pregnancy and/or infertility;
  • increased risk of damage to other organs such as the heart, liver or central nervous system.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM STDS?

Abstain from sex or limit risk by:

  • staying with one partner who is also monogamous (only intimate with you)
  • using latex condoms for sexual activity to avoid any exchange of bodily fluids
  • having regular medical check-ups
  • discussing any questions or concerns with your health care provider

Compiled by Lynn Peters, RN, CRNP, a nurse practitioner in a private group obstetric/gynecologic practice in West Chester, PA

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