STDs or Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that are transferred through sexual contact. Some of these infections are also transmitted during birth from mother to child or through contaminated needles—HIV or HbsAg for instance.
How STDs affect health
Though STDs are not a much-talked about health issue, as per the World Health Organization, more than a million new cases of STDs occur every day throughout the world. In developing countries, STDs are among the top five diseases to affect the adult population. What is alarming is that these infections are mostly seen during 15 – 49 years of age—the most productive years of one’s life.
STDs are more common in adolescent girls and women. These infections, if not promptly treated, can cause blockage of the fallopian tube and also lead to infertility. STDs could also be detected during pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies [pregnancies occurring at sites other than the uterus] are more likely in individuals from STDs. Active genital infection such as herpes, during delivery, puts the newborn at the risk of herpetic infection of the skin and/or internal organs as well.
Often STDs are without symptoms. Lack of symptoms, however, does not mean fewer chances of complications. Thus, women with sexual partners, who have symptoms suggestive of STDs should seek care, even in the absence of complaints.
Also, in case the person has an HIV infection, STDs tend to be more florid, severe and resistant to standard treatment. HIV infected individuals who are not on therapy for the same, generally need a longer course of treatment for STDs.
- Caused by bacteria: Gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, granuloma inguinale or donovanosis and chancroid.
- Caused by a virus: HIV, herpes, hepatitis B, genital molluscum, human papillomavirus causing cervical cancer.
- Caused by parasite: Genital scabies and pubic lice.
- Caused by fungus: Candidiasis.
- Caused by protozoa: Vaginal trichomoniasis.
What are the symptoms of a STD?
In case of STDs, usually there is a discharge from the vagina, penis or urethra, urinary tract infections or swelling of lymph nodes in the groin. There could also be ulcers in the genital area. These symptoms are not specific to any particular organism and could be due to herpes, chancroid, and syphilis or donovanosis infection.
The genital discharge could also be due to gonorrhoea, candidiasis or trichomonal infection. Infections such as the HIV or hepatitis B do not have specific symptoms. Therefore, to diagnose these conditions, a detailed examination and tests like pus culture, antigen and/or antibody levels are required. In case you suspect that you’ve contracted an STD, get yourself checked by a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Can STDs be prevented?
Since these infections are transmitted during sex, it is necessary to follow safe sexual practices. The chance of contracting an STD increases with increase in number of sexual partners. So it’s best to restrict your sexual activities to a loyal, uninfected partner. Also, if you doubt that you have contracted an STD, avoid any sexual contact till you get it verified by an expert. STDs don’t always spread only via intercourse; they also spread via oral and anal sex.
Using barrier contraceptives such as condoms reduces the risk of becoming infected with STDs, especially if the condoms are used correctly and consistently. However, certain STDs like genital molloscum or herpes, are present in the skin around the genitals. And since the condom does not cover the area, the infection may still get to passed on to the sexual partner.
Oral contraceptives protect against pregnancy not STDs. There are vaccines to protect against Human papilloma viruses [HPV], which causes genital warts and cervical cancer. These are most effective when used before the first sexual contact; the vaccine can be given as early as nine years of age up to 26 years of age. It has also been used in males to prevent genital warts.
It is time to shed our inhibitions to protect ourselves and the future generations from such diseases. It is the duty of each parent to educate their teens about safe sexual practices. The children should feel free to approach their parents for such matters. For information and treatment of matters related to sexual health, consult a trained doctor; only a trained professional can give you appropriate counselling and accurate treatment.
Difference between Sexually transmitted infection and sexually transmitted disease
When a person gets infected and doesn’t yet show any symptoms it is known as a sexually transmitted infection. An infection can spread from one individual to another even during this stage. This is the stage before it becomes a disease.
So, a sexually transmitted disease is when the symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection present themselves.
It is easier to prevent contracting an STI than to treat an STD.