Sexually Transmitted Diseases

A sexually transmitted disease, or STD, is a disease or infection that is spread from one person to another through sexual contact. Most STDs are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, that are transmitted through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or bodily fluids. There are many different types of viruses that are characterized as STDs, some of which include:

  • Genital Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • HIV
  • HPV
  • Condyloma
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis

STDs can cause problems ranging from mild irritation to severe pain. Left untreated, some STDs can cause illness, cancer, infertility or harm to a fetus during pregnancy.

Causes of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STDs are caused by a bacterial or viral infection that is spread through sexual contact. People who may be more at risk for contacting an STD may include those who:

  • Engage in unprotected sex
  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Are already infected with an STD
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Share needles for drug use or tattoos

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Most sexually transmitted diseases have no symptoms at all, especially in women, so some people may not even know they have been infected with an STD. Other symptoms may vary depending on the specific type of STD and may include:

  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Sores or blisters on the genitals
  • Warts or growths on the genitals
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosis of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

A sexually transmitted disease can be diagnosed by a doctor after a physical examination and review of symptoms. Additional tests may include taking a sample of genital fluids or a culture of swabbed specimens to detect the presence of an STD. Additional tests may include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests

Periodic STD testing is recommended for anyone with multiple sexual partners, even if they are having protected sex.

Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Treatment for STDS may vary depending on the specific diagnosis. Although many STDs cannot be cured, there is medication available to treat and manage symptoms. Some STDs can be treated with antibiotics to clear the infection or medication to prevent flare-ups of symptoms. The HIV virus is commonly treated with a combination of antiretroviral drugs. In some cases, as with condyloma, genital warts may be removed through surgical methods.

Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases may be prevented by avoiding risky sexual behavior. STDs may be avoided by:

  • Abstaining from sexual activity
  • Using condoms for all sexual activity
  • Remaining in a monogamous relationship
  • Not sharing needles

There is currently a vaccination available for certain strains of the HPV virus. Two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing persistent infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which cause most cases of condyloma or genital warts. Both vaccines are effective for females between the ages of 9 and 26 and the Gardasil vaccine is effective for males between the ages of 9 and 26. These vaccinations are administered as three separate injections over the course of six months.

STDs are serious infections that can cause lifelong or recurring symptoms and side effects. It is important for all patients to practice safe sex and get tested often.

Additional Resources