S.T.D., what does it mean? It stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease. STDs used to be called venereal diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases have been around for a long time. There were references to gonorrhea in the Old Testament and descriptions of syphilis at the time of Columbus. Sexually transmitted diseases cross all boundaries. They are not restricted to people of one sexual orientation, race, cultural group or socioeconomic class. When most people think about infectious diseases, they think about their last cold or flu that had been going around at school or work. Reports come from health departments all over the country. Government workers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count all the cases of each disease. When you look at the most frequently reported infectious diseases in the United States, 87 percent are sexually transmitted diseases. There are 12 million new cases each year. STDs are clearly a big problem in today’s society. Most sexually transmitted diseases are treatable; however many become resistant to antibiotics. Some STDs are not curable. The more familiar STD’s are gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, Chlamydial trachomatis infections, and HIV/AIDs.
One of the most frequently encountered communicable diseases in the U.S. is called the “clap”, “drip”, “dose”, “strain”, “gleet”, “jack”, or gonorrhea. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria Gonorrhoeae, which is common all over the world today and can only thrive in human beings. There is no way to acquire immunity to this disease. This disease is transmitted by the way of direct contact with the secretions of mucous membranes such as those of the urethra, cervix, vagina, anus, eyes and throat.
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The contact involved in transmitting gonorrhea is almost always sexual in nature. It is possible that contaminated fingers can transfer infection from one region of the body to another; however this is highly unlikely because the bacteria dies rapidly when exposed to the warmth and moisture of mucous membranes. Symptoms of infection usually appear within two to ten days after exposure but can take up to thirty days.
In males, gonorrhea usually strikes first at the urethra. A burning sensation during urination may be experienced due to the irritation of the urethra’s mucosal lining. Many males may also notice abnormal discharge from the penis. The penis itself may be red or swollen at the tip. Urination may become more frequent or difficult; however occasionally no symptoms are evident immediately.
In females gonorrhea seems to strike selectively at the cervix. Eighty percent of females with gonorrhea have no immediate signs or symptoms. One symptom in women is a foul smelling vaginal discharge. Since vaginal discharges are not uncommon, women should be alert to any change in the color, odor, or other appearance of discharges. If gonorrhea has affected the urethra, women may experience a burning sensation upon urination.
Gonorrhea can also infect the anal region, oral cavity, and eyes. The period of communicability for gonorrhea is uncertain but can last as long as discharge continues anywhere from three to six months. Precise diagnosis of gonorrhea requires cultures of discharge specimens. Under most circumstances gonorrhea is easily treated. It is now clear that larger and larger doses of penicillin may be necessary to kill some resistant strains.
Untreated gonorrhea may result in irreversible complications. Infertility and sterility can develop in males and females. Gonococcal arthritis in major joints is a generalized infection that irreversibly damages the brain, heart, liver and other key organs and can be present in either sex. The most reliable form of protection is the use of condoms during sexual episodes. The sexually active individual should also be selective about sexual partners and stay alert to obvious signs and symptoms of disease.
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Syphilis, also called “bad blood”, is perhaps the best known STD of all. Once confined to certain parts of the world, syphilis now occurs universally. Treponema Pallidum is the causative agent. It belongs to a group of organisms that resemble bacteria. Humans provide the only known host for T. Pallidum. There is no vaccine or other acquired immunity for syphilis. Only about thirty percent of the people exposed result in infections.
Syphilis is transmitted by direct contact with infected sores called chancres, syphilitic skin rashes, or mucous patches on the tongue and mouth during kissing, necking, petting, or sexual intercourse. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to a fetus after the fourth month of pregnancy.
The incubation period for syphilis is from ten to ninety days with twenty one days being the average. The diagnostic blood test for this STD is likely to be negative during the incubation period. Syphilis goes through several stages. In its primary stage, it is characterized by the appearance of a chancre at the first site of infection. A chancre resembles a blister, pimple, or raised open sore. It is infectious and contains a large number of spiral bacteria. Chancres are often painless and may be hidden in the mouth, throat, vagina, cervix, or anus, making detection difficult. Chancres tend to heal themselves in two to six weeks, but leave behind thousands of infectious spirochetes. Primary syphilis may be accompanied by swollen glands near the site of primary infection.
Once the chancre disappears the secondary stage begins. Secondary symptoms can occur from six weeks to six months after the primary infection disappears. New symptoms usually include the presence of a rash or raised lesions anywhere on the skin. The rash is not painful or itchy, but is infectious. Patches of white in the mouth, nose, or rectum may appear. These mucous patches can also transmit disease. Additional symptoms at this stage may include patchy hair loss, mild fever and body aches, swollen glands and flu like symptoms. Secondary symptoms disappear in two to six weeks but may reoccur for up to two years. When left untreated, syphilis enters what is called the latent stage. At this point symptoms are absent. The length of the latent stage is variable, but can last at least five years and perhaps as many as twenty years or more. Some cases of syphilis remain dormant for an indefinite length of time. Others evolve into the final stage of symptoms.
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Tertiary or late-stage syphilis usually occurs between five and twenty years following initial infection. This condition leads to permanent disabilities and even death. Neurosyphilis in which the brain and the spinal cord become affected, produce paralysis, insanity and blindness. Cardiovascular syphilis includes major damage to the heart and the aorta, possibly resulting in death. Late begin syphilis is characterized by the appearance of large destructive lesions virtually at any internal or external site.
The period of contagiousness for syphilis is variable. It is clearly infectious in its primary and secondary stages. Active bacteria are wiped out in twenty four to forty eight hours by adequate treatment with penicillin. Infected individuals must be followed closely after treatment and repeated blood test must be performed to assure the complete absence of the disease. People hoping to avoid syphilis must avoid contact with syphilitic lesions. The use of a condom during sexual intercourse can assist in this, but a condom will not protect other exposed surfaces.
Genital herpes is rapidly gaining attention as an STD. One reason is that thousands of new cases are being identified each year. Another reason is a lack of any known cure. Herpes simplex virus type 2, because it is viral, makes antibiotic drugs useless in treating the symptoms and eliminating infection from the body. In most cases, the herpes sore blisters and a crust forms on the genitals and heal and disappear on their own in a few days or weeks. The virus itself, however, stays in a dormant stage: the absence of symptoms does not necessarily mean the absence of active virus. Herpes may flair up from time to time, causing the sores to reappear. These sores are usually visible and painful in both sexes however, signs of herpes in women can be internal and painless. It is possible for women to be unaware of the virus’s presence.
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It is not well understood what triggers reoccurrences of herpes. Towered resistance, other infections, chafing or irritation of the affected area, emotional upset, and even certain foods are implicated to some extent. Herpes victims are advised to be especially conscientious about controlling stress factors that may aggravate the dormant HSV-2 organism. It is advised that a condom be used during intercourse to provide protection for the uninfected partner. The person who follows a well-balanced fitness routine should experience minimal life disruptions resulting from herpes.
Women who have herpes need to take a few extra precautions. There is an association between HSV-2 infection and the development of cervical cancer. A woman with herpes may be advised to have pap tests more frequently and watch for any unusual vaginal bleeding. Because of the danger of infecting the newborn infant, women who know they have herpes should share that information with their doctor. There is no cure for genital herpes at this time. Some relief of symptoms is available using topical ointments.
Chlamydia trachomatis is a common STD in the U.S. This organism, an intracellular parasite, is responsible for more than one disease condition. Nongonococcal urethritis ( NGU ) and lymphogranuloma venereum ( LGV ) are among these conditions. NGU involves an inflammation of the urethra. If symptoms are present, they may resemble those of gonorrhea. Chlamydia currently accounts for approximately fifty percent of NGU cases. Transmission of NGU, however is probable during sexual intercourse, and transfer from mother to infant at birth is also possible.
To tell the difference between NGU and gonorrhea, cultures of smears or discharged must be examined in a laboratory. The treatment for NGU is tetracycline. The most severe complication of NGU in females is PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease).
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This condition often leads to infertility. NGU can be controlled by using condoms during sexual intercourse, washing the genitals with soap and water before and after intercourse, and contacting sex partners when infection presents itself.
Trachomatis is also responsible for LGV. Symptoms include sores in the genital area that resemble pimples. It is most commonly seen among gay men and people having multiple sex partners. Transmission occurs through direct contact with lesions, usually during sexual intercourse. Complications from LGV are rare, though inflammation of the urethra, cervix, and rectum are possible Tetracycline provides reliable therapy for this STD.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Over time, the HIV virus weakens the immune system by infecting and killing certain white blood cells. It is only after the immune system is significantly weakened that people with HIV get one or more infections. Before this happens, there are essentially no symptoms or signs that indicate that somebody is infected with HIV.
It is estimated that over a million Americans are infected with HIV. Over twenty million people are infected worldwide. This disease was first thought to infect only homosexuals and IV drug users who share needles, but it is clear that anybody exchanging bodily fluids can get this infection. Most of the continual spread of HIV is caused by unprotected heterosexual sex, followed by homosexual sex, IV drug use, and transmission to a baby by an infected mother.
The signs & symptoms of HIV and AIDS are very different depending on how damaged ones immune system has become. When somebody initially gets exposed and infected by HIV, they often have flu-like symptoms. These symptoms go away, and most people have no idea they have this infection until they are diagnosed with a blood test or they develop an opportunistic infection or unusual cancer.
The most common opportunistic infections include Candida albicans, a throat and body infection, Pneumocystis carinii, pneumonia, Toxoplasmosis creates brain infection, Cryptococcus is a brain and body infection, Tuberculosis infects the lungs and body, and Cytomegalovirus is an eye and body infection. The most common cancer associated with AIDS is called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Many other infections such as herpes, HPV, Streptococcal pneumonia, and Salmonella occur in people with AIDS.
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The diagnosis is made by a blood test that finds antibodies against HIV, meaning that if you have been exposed to the virus your body has developed an immune response and is making antibodies in an attempt to fight off the infection. Many times, people first learn they have AIDS when they go to their doctor with one of the common opportunistic infections or Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Currently there is no cure for HIV infection. Treatment is geared towards both controlling the virus and treating the opportunistic infections. Many new and exciting anti-viral medications have had good success in slowing down the progression of HIV infection by preventing the virus from multiplying. Medications such as AZT, ddI, ddC, and the newer protease-inhibitors have gotten a lot of press since HIV was defined. Newer, less toxic, and better medications are continually being introduced and even more are on the way. Vaccine studies are underway both for those uninfected and those already infected. Taking good care of oneself also seems crucial in preventing the rapid progression of HIV. Pregnant women who have HIV infection should be treated with medicine during their pregnancy and at delivery as this has been clearly proven to reduce the rate of transmitting the infection to the baby.
STDs are among the most common infections known. More than 12 million people in the United States, including 3 million teenagers, are infected with STDs every year. The United States has the highest STD rate in the industrialized world, about one in ten Americans will contract an STD during his or her lifetime. People who do not know they are infected risk infecting their sexual partners and, in some cases, their unborn children. If left untreated, these diseases may cause debilitating pain or may destroy a woman’s ability to have children. Some STDs can be cured with a single dose of antibiotics, but many, such as AIDS, cannot be cured. People with these diseases remain infected for their entire lives until they die. Don’t let it happen to you.