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What Is an STD?
An STD is a sexually transmitted disease. STDs are spread from person to person through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Symptoms of STDs can include soreness, a skin lesion, discharge, itching, and burning pain when passing urine. If you have any symptoms of an STD, it’s important to see your doctor. Many STDs are easily treated, but some can lead to serious health conditions if you ignore them. Here are eight common STDs you need to know about.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) can infect the genitals, mouth, and throat. Many people with HPV never have symptoms and may clear the virus on their own. Some types of HPV cause a wart-like skin lesion called a genital wart, while other types of HPV can cause cervical and oral cancer. The best way to protect yourself from this STD is to practice safe sex. A vaccine can help protect you against many types of HPV, but it needs to be given before you become sexually active.
Chlamydia, the most common bacterial STD, is easily treated with antibiotics. But chlamydia symptoms only occur in about half of infected men and a third of infected women — and untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility in women. When symptoms do develop, they occur about three weeks after contact and include discharge and burning during urination. Have a screening exam if you are sexually active.
The viral STD genital herpes affects a lot of people. Symptoms can be mild, so most people don’t know they have it. They include fevers, aches, and genital sores, and may occur up to 20 days after sexual contact. Genital herpes symptoms clear on their own, but may return weeks to years later. This virus is not usually serious, but can be spread to a baby if the infection is active during the mother’s labor. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can shorten an outbreak and reduce recurrences.
Trichomoniasis occurs in both men and women through vaginal sex. Women are more likely to notice STD symptoms that include vaginal discharge, a strong odor, irritation, vaginal itching, and burning during urination. Many men have no symptoms and can pass trichomoniasis unknowingly. You should let any sexual partner know if you have been diagnosed with this STD. If left untreated, trichomoniasis makes you more susceptible to HIV, symptoms may continue, and the infection can spread to the prostate in men. Trichomoniasis is easy to treat and cure with antibiotics.
More teens and young adults are contracting gonorrhea, a bacterial STD. It is spread through genital, oral, or anal contact. Symptoms include burning on urination, discolored discharge from the penis or vagina, and sore throat. When the bacteria spread throughout the body, they can also cause skin lesions, as seen in the image. Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, but drug-resistant strains are increasing. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to serious infections that can cause infertility in men and women, and an infected woman can pass the infection to her baby during labor. You can have gonorrhea without obvious symptoms.
Syphilis has been called “the great imitator” because it has three stages with different symptoms. Syphilis is spread through vaginal, oral, or anal contact, and starts with a painless skin lesion called a chancre. If untreated during this first stage, symptoms of the second stage can include a rash on the feet or hands (as seen in the image), swollen glands, hair loss, and fatigue. In its final stage, syphilis can damage the brain, nerve, heart, and bone tissues. If you see your doctor early on, a simple shot of penicillin can cure this dangerous STD. Later stages usually require more intensive treatment.
Pubic lice, commonly called “crabs,” are parasites spread by skin contact with body hair during sex. They can also be spread through infested clothing or bedding. The lice burrow into skin to feed on blood and cause symptoms of itching and inflammation. Spots of blood or the lice themselves can sometimes be seen on the skin. Special shampoos and lotions kill the lice on skin and washing in hot water will kill lice on clothing and bedding.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
A very important reason to recognize and treat an STD is that these diseases can make you more susceptible to HIV. When HIV-infected blood or sexual fluids come into contact with genital, anal, or oral tissues affected by an STD, the virus can more easily enter the bloodstream. People infected with HIV may develop skin lesions related to a type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma (as seen in the image). About 33 million people worldwide are now living with HIV. Symptoms are often mild or absent, so the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. Educate yourself about HIV and symptoms of STDs. Your best protection is prevention.