Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs are some prevalent contagious diseases that are mainly transmitted from person to person through sexual activities like vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Some of the most common STDs are genital warts, gonorrhea, HIV, chlamydia, Genital Herpes.
The pathogens that cause these diseases are usually found in the genitals as they provide a warm and moist environment that help them to thrive. When a person engages in sexual activity with someone, these pathogens are then passed from the host body to the other. While most Sexually Transmitted Diseases are treatable mainly, the ones that are caused by bacteria like chlamydia, Gonorrhea, etc. some are caused by viruses like HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, which can be fatal as it attacks the body’s immune system; rendering a person susceptible to infections.
Sexually transmitted diseases not only do they pass through sexual activity but in some non-sexual ways also, for example, in some cases, they are also passed from a mother to a newborn child. In that case, the child may suffer some irreparable harm, and it can even be fatal, they are also transmitted through blood transfusions and sharing of needles.
Sexually transmitted diseases are also known as venereal diseases and are very commonly reported by people on a daily basis, but most of these do not show any symptoms. Most of these are curable, but if left untreated, they can cause some serious problems. Some risk factors for acquiring these diseases are:
- If some have more than one sexual partner
- If someone engages in sexual activity with someone who has had more than one partner
- Having sex with the use of a condom
- sharing needles
Causes of STDs
STDs are some common contagious diseases that are mainly transmitted from person to person through sexual activities like vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
The microorganisms (Bacteria, Viruses, etc.) that cause sexually transmitted diseases generally thrive in the mucous membranes of the genital parts; the genitals provide a warm and moist environment for them to grow and survive. It is through having vaginal, oral, or anal sex that they are passed from person to person. The pathogens are found in the semen, vaginal fluids, and sometimes saliva. There are some non-sexual ways to acquire these diseases like from an infected mother to the newborn child, sharing of needles while injecting IV drugs.
Some examples of sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by bacteria are syphilis, chlamydia, and Gonorrhea. In contrast, the ones that are caused by the virus are HIV, HPV or human papillomavirus, genital warts, and Hepatitis B.
Scope of Problem
Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are infections or diseases that are passed on from one person to another through sexual activity, namely vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Sexually transmitted diseases are very common, and millions of cases are reported each day worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, every day, more than 1 million cases of STD are registered every day. In the year 2016, 376 million new infections, Chlamydia (127 million), Gonorrhea (87 million), Syphilis (6.3 million), and Trichomoniasis (156 million).
Sexually transmitted diseases have a big impact on the reproductive health of people worldwide.
- Transmissions from mother to child can lead to various complications like stillbirths, low-birth-weight and prematurity, pneumonia, neonatal conjunctivitis, and congenital deformities.
- HPV or human papillomavirus infection causes 570 000 cases of cervical cancer, and over 300 000 cervical cancer deaths each year c) Gonorrhea and chlamydia are major causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs are some infections or diseases that are transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person. In terms of sexual ways, there are three ways of acquiring them; vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Since the disease-causing pathogens live in the bod genital fluids like vaginal fluids, semen, and sometimes also saliva, they provide apt conditions for them to proliferate. So, upon sexual contact, they are passed on to the other person. On the other hand, there are some non-sexual ways by which they are acquired, like sharing of needles between intravenous drug users, from an infected mother to a newborn child, in which case it proves to be fatal for the newborn.
Most of the sexually transmitted diseases caused by bacteria are curable like, for example, chlamydia, Gonorrhea, etc. however, some are caused by viruses like HIV that cannot be cured, but they can be managed with proper intake of medication. Below are some of the preventable STDs, their symptoms, and treatment.
1. Genital Warts – HPV
Genital warts are bumps or growths around the genital area. These are common in both men and women. As with many other Sexually transmitted diseases, these are passed from one person to another through a sexual activity like vaginal, anal, or sometimes through oral sex. But genital warts can also be transmitted through skin to skin contact with an infected person.
The major cause of genital warts are HPV or human papillomavirus.HPV is the cause for genital warts, and both men and women but women are more susceptible to complications. HPV in women are the leading cause of cervical cancer and also cancers of the outer genital area.
Genital warts are raised bumps that are caused due to engaging in vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected partner. These bumps can be stand-alone bumps, or they can be in clusters; they usually resemble cauliflower and sometimes are not visible to the naked eyes. Genital warts in males appear in the following areas:
- around the anus or inside it
In females they appear on the following areas:
- on the cervix
- inside or outside the vagina
- inside or around the anus
Since the root cause for genital warts is HPV, there is an HPV vaccine that is given in 3 shots over the course of 6 months. Boys and girls of 11-12 years of age are vaccinated under the Centers for Disease Control.
Cryotherapy is another option by which a wart/warts are frozen with the help of liquid nitrogen and a device known as the cryoprobe. The cold is applied to warts for about 10-20 seconds when they freeze they are easily removed.
Scabies is a highly contagious yet one of the preventable STDs that is characterized by intense itching that worsens during the night. It is caused by the infestation of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites are eight-legged, and they procreate through burrowing in on the host’s skin, which causes intense itching. After burrowing, they lay eggs in them, and when these eggs hatch and more mites come out of these, they too continue the burrowing cycle.
Scabies infestation is a very common phenomenon, and it affects millions of people worldwide each year, these include infants, children as well as the general adult population. It results in red bumps are rashes that occur mainly on the head, face, neck, palms, and soles of infants. They can also occur in the folds of skin between the fingers, on the nipples, on genital areas, as well as the buttocks.
Scabies can be transmitted through sexual contact as well as skin to skin contact with the infected person. The scabies rash is composed of raised bumps and blisters; they commonly appear on the head, face, neck, palms, and soles of newborn babies. These rashes or bumps also appear between the fingers, on the nipples, as well as on the genital areas and buttocks.
Scabies is treatable with the use of prescribed medications. If someone has scabies, that person’s recent sexual partner and also the ones they live with might also have to undergo treatment. The doctor prescribes certain ointments or lotions that need to apply all over the body, which might also need to be left in a few hours. The medication prescribed by a doctor is known as a “scabicide.” which contains the chemical ”permethrin”, and it comes in a lotion or cream form.
Even after the mites have been killed, the itching may still linger for some time. In this case, the doctor prescribes certain steroids and antihistamines to manage it.
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease that affects both men and women. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea is a treatable nut if left untreated; it can cause various complications like, for example, in women, it can lead to the PID or pelvic inflammatory disease, which affects the uterus and fallopian tubes. Its serious complication is infertility. If Gonorrhea is left untreated, it can raise a person’s risk of acquiring HIV. Gonorrhea usually affects areas such as the eyes, urethra, throat, vagina, anus, etc.
– In men
- discharge from the urethra
- painful urination which can be frequent
- anal discharge and pain while passing stools
- swollen and painful joints
- inflamed penis
– In women:
- painful sex
- vaginal discharge that can be yellow
- bleeding during sexual intercourse
- painful and frequent urination
Gonorrhea is caused by engaging in unprotected sexual activity with an infected person; this includes anal, vaginal as well as oral sex. People that have multiple sexual partners that engage in sexual activity with the use of protection are at a higher risk of acquiring it.
When someone displays symptoms of Gonorrhea, the doctor first runs some tests to make sure it is actually that. There are some tests like swab tests where samples of fluid from the penis or vagina are taken and later examined. If it is Gonorrhea, the doctor prescribes antibiotics like ceftriaxone and either azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) or doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin). Along with prescribing medications, it is also prescribed to abstain from further sexual activities.
Syphilis is another sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. It is spread through having unprotected anal and oral sex. Though syphilis can remain dormant in the body for several years, its first signs are usually the appearance of a sore on the rectum, mouth, or genitals. This sore is painless and is called a Chancre.
Syphilis is easily treated with a single shot of Penicillin. However, if left untreated, it can damage the brain, heart, blood vessels, and the nervous system.
Syphilis is transmitted through unprotected anal and oral sex. It can also be transmitted through cuts in the skin. People that engage in sexual activity with multiple partners are at a high risk of developing it.
If syphilis is caught early on, then it can be completely cured with the help of Penicillin. Once cured, syphilis does not recur on its own.
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. It is transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The symptoms include:
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge that is in large quantities
- burning sensation during urination
- swelling around the genitals
- abdominal pain
Chlamydia is mainly caused by engaging in unprotected sexual activity with an infected person. It can be vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Chlamydia does not exhibit any symptoms immediately, and they usually start to appear after about 10 to 15 days. The detection of chlamydia is done through urine and swab tests. If left untreated, it can cause complications like infertility and ectopic pregnancies in women. For its treatment, two drugs are prescribed, namely: Azithromycin and Doxycycline.
6. Oral Herpes
Oral Herpes is characterized by cold sores or blisters around the mouth. They can also be found on the tongue, the roof of the mouth, inside of the cheeks and nose. The herpes simplex one virus causes it. Oral Herpes can be contracted through direct contact with the infected person through kissing, through minor cuts and abrasions. However, Oral Herpes can be transmitted through sexual activity as well. Symptoms include:
- cold sores
- bleeding gums
- swollen lymph nodes
- itching around the sores
Oral Herpes is caused by direct physical contact with the infected person like kissing, through cuts and abrasions, it is also contracted through unprotected sexual activity.
Treatment for Oral Herpes is diagnosed by running some tests that involve taking fluid samples from the sores, Tzanck smear test, culture test, etc. After it is determined that it is oral herpes medications like acyclovir, famciclovir (Famvir), or valacyclovir (Valtrex) are prescribed as these help in healing the sores at a faster rate.
7. Genital Herpes
As discussed earlier, oral Herpes are caused by the herpes simplex one virus while the Genital Herpes is caused by herpes simplex two virus, making these two distinct from one another. Genital Herpes are sores and painful blisters that appear on the genitals, and around the genital area, buttocks, and anus, these can break and ooze fluid. The primary cause for its transmission is through sexual contact with an infected person.
- pain and itching around the genital area
- blisters than can break open and ooze blood or other fluids
- bumps on the in and around the genital area
The main cause for contracting genital Herpes is through sexual activity and skin to skin contact.
Treatment starts with diagnosing it. First, this includes certain tests. After the diagnosis is made, medications like acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex) are prescribed to help speed up the healing of the sores. If the case is severe, then acyclovir an intravenous drug is prescribed.
8. Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver. It is contracted through contact with blood, semen, and other body fluids so it can be transmitted through sexual activity, sharing of needles. An infected mother can pass the infection to the newborn baby.
- abdominal pain
- yellowing of the eyes
- passing if dark urine
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood, semen, and other body fluids, it can also spread through the use of shared needles and from an infected mother to the newborn baby.
Diagnosis for Hepatitis B is made through blood tests and liver biopsy. There are no permanent cures for Hepatitis B other than getting vaccinated. If a person is not sure if they have been vaccinated, they can get the immunoglobulin injection (an antibody), which is given within 12 hours of exposure to the virus, along with that they are advised to get vaccinated.
HIV, also known as the human immunodeficiency virus, is a deadly virus that attacks the immune system of the infected person. It is transmitted through unprotected sexual activities, through body fluids like blood, breast milk, and through an infected mother to the child. HIV remains in the body for many years, and later it develops into a serious condition known as AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, by this point the body’s immune system is so weak that even a minor common cold can kill a person.
- flu-like symptoms
- swollen lymph nodes, chills, and fever
- sore throat
- night sweats
- extreme unexplained weight loss
- extreme fatigue
- sores of the mouth and genitals
- swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin area, and the neck
HIV is caused through unprotected sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, sharing of needled, breastfeeding, and from an infected mother to the child. HIV destroys the T cells, which help the body in fighting off diseases, the fewer the T cells, the weaker the body’s immune system gets. When the T cell count falls below 200, that is when HIV becomes AIDS.
Diagnosis is made through antibody, antigen, and Nucleic acid test (NAT). These tests are done anonymously and are accurate. After contracting the infection during the first six months or the ‘’window period,’’ the tests might not come out positive, yet the person can still spread the infection to others.
While there is no cure for AIDS yet, however, there are some medications that help in putting a stop to the proliferation of HIV in the body, thus preventing it from advancing to AIDS.
Trichomoniasis or ”Trich” is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis. It passed from one person to another through sexual contact. In women, it affects the vulva, vagina, and the cervix, while in men, the urethra is mostly affected. If a pregnant woman has Trichomoniasis, it can lead to premature birth.
- itching around the genitals
- foul-smelling discharge
- burning sensation while urinating
The protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis cause Trichomoniasis, and it is transmitted through sexual activity. People that have multiple sexual partners, those who have a history of sexually transmitted diseases, and those who engage in unprotected sex are at a higher risk of contracting Trichomoniasis.
Trichomoniasis can be treated with the help of medications like metronidazole or tinidazole. This medication is also safe for pregnant women. It is advised not to consume alcohol within 24 hours of taking the medication to avoid side effects. Trichomoniasis is the most common treatable sexually transmitted disease.
Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Haemophilus ducreyi. It is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. The bacteria attacks the genital area and produces open sores that ooze blood or other fluids, which can then spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex. Chancroid is mainly found in developing countries and not in the US.
- swelling of the urethra
- painful and bleeding sore
- abnormal discharge
- pain while urinating
The Haemophilus ducreyi causes Chancroid through sexual contact with an infected person. It results in painful open sores and ulcers around the genitals in both men and women.
Chancroid is a treatable STD. It is treated with medications azithromycin, ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, erythromycin base. It is imperative to take these medications regularly for the Chancroid to heal properly.
12. Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)
Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. It is an infection that affects the lymphatic system. Lymphogranuloma venereum is spread through sexual activity.
After 3-12 days of exposure to the bacteria:
- painless sores start to develop around the genitals
- the throat and mouth area if engaged in oral sex.
After 2-6 weeks of exposure:
- the sores become open
- there is painful urination
- rectal bleeding
- joint pain
- fever and chills.
There are no vaccines available to treat Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), but it can be treated with a three-week course of antibiotics like doxycycline, taken twice a day for 21 days and alternatively erythromycin base or azithromycin.
13. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID is an infection of the female reproductive system that mainly affects the uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, and ovaries. The disease is a result due to the complications arising from sexually transmitted diseases like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. If it is not treated in the right way, it can render a woman infertile.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs. It attacks the female reproductive system and causes infertility if not treated. Some symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID include:
- Pain in the pelvic area
- foul-smelling and heavy vaginal discharge
- Pain or bleeding during sexual intercourse
- fever accompanied by chills
- pain during urination
Diagnosis is usually made through the method of pelvic examinations, urine test, and a cervical culture. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID is treated through antibiotics. Since combinations of bacteria cause it, a doctor might prescribe two to three different types of antibiotics.
FAQs on STDs
How do STDs spread?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs are infections or diseases that are contracted or transmitted from one person to another through sexual contact, usually unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Sexually Transmitted Diseases are very common and affect almost everyone at some point in their life. Since these are common, they are also easily curable with the use of antibiotics or vaccines. Since they spread through contact with body fluids, it is very important to use barrier methods like condoms during anal and vaginal sex and dental dams in the case of oral sex.
How can you tell if your partner has an STD?
Just by looking at a person or his or her genitals, it cannot be ascertained that they have an STD, the only way to confirm that it is through tests. Not all STDs show symptoms, but it is a good idea to get tested if any of the following symptoms show:
- itching or burning around the genitals
- strange bumps or sores
- pain during urination
- foul-smelling and heavy discharge from the vagina or penis
- bleeding from the genitals (other than periods in women)
Who’s at Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Though teen and young adults most commonly reported sexually transmitted diseases, anyone that is sexually active is at risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases. The risk increases manifold if there is sex without the use of condoms if there is sexual activity with multiple partners or someone that has multiple partners. Get more of your STD-related questions answered with this FAQ article on Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Syphilis
Can STDs Come Back?
Most treatments do not provide any lifelong protection against developing sexually transmitted diseases. If someone has contracted an STD in the past, it can recur after if they get exposed to those pathogens again. If someone is not properly treated for a sexually transmitted disease, they can spread it to others.