Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or venereal diseases, affect more than 500 million people worldwide, and 110 million people in the United States alone (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). While STDs affect different demographics, about 50% of new cases consist of the youth. STDs are infections passed through unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex; blood transfusions; or sharing needles. It can also be transmitted to infants during pregnancy. Some of the most common types of STDs are chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, HPV, trichomoniasis, and HIV/AIDS, are not necessarily harmful, however some can cause serious health problems when not detected and treated early. STDs are either caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. HPV, genital herpes, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis are viral STDs. Viruses typically attach to a host cell and take over its operations by producing viral nucleic acid, which reproduces more viruses until it destroys the host cell. For other viruses, this process is quick, but for STDs like herpes and HIV, this does not take place for years after the virus attaches itself on a host cell. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia are bacterial STDs. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that reproduce by dividing into two identical cells. Parasitic STDs, on the other hand, are intestinal parasites, pubic lice, scabies, trichomoniasis, and vaginitis. These are caused by organisms that live off hosts to survive. Like viruses, they can go undetected for a long time. Viral STDs can only be managed through antiviral drugs, while bacterial and parasitic STDs can generally be cured.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common STDs. This type of STD is generally harmless. HPV types 6 and 11 cause genital warts. In some cases, HPV does not manifest symptoms and can disappear without being detected at all. However, there are two types of HPV, types 16 and 18, also called high-risk HPV, which can cause genital warts or sometimes HPV cancer. HPV has been associated with cervical cancer, cancer in the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. HPV can be transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, particularly vaginal or anal sex. The Human Pappillomavirus can be prevented through the usage of condoms and dental dams. However, these don’t provide 100% protection as these cannot cover all parts of the genitals that could be infected with HPV. For this reason the HPV vaccine remains the better option for protection from HPV.
HPV and genital warts cannot be cured, though they can go away on their own. Genital warts appear both on the internal and external parts of the genitals. For women, warts can occur around the vulva, inside the vagina, on the cervix, around or inside the anus, and on the upper thighs. For men, warts can occur on the penis, scrotum, inside the urethra, anus, and on the upper thighs. Genital warts can be treated with liquids or creams or cryotherapy, which involves freezing the warts then scraping them off. However, genital warts can develop again after removal if the HPV is still present.
Chlamydia is another common STD. Symptoms of chlamydia rarely shows, which is why it can get passed on without either person’s knowledge. Symptoms include unusual discharge, a burning sensation during urination;men feel burning or itching around the opening of the penis; while women experience discomfort or bleeding during sex, and lower abdominal pain, nausea, or fever if the infection spreads. If untreated, chlamydia could spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can damage the reproductive organs. PID not only causes chronic pain in the pelvic area, but it can also leave women unable to get pregnant or have ectopic pregnancy. On the other hand, men can develop inflammation of the testicles, which when untreated, could also affect fertility. Other times, untreated chlamydia can lead to reactive arthritis. Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics that need to be taken according to physician’s instructions.
Trichomoniasis or “trich” is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This parasite can be transferred during sex between genitals as well as other parts of the body, like the hands, mouth, or anus. Usage of condoms, conversing with sexual partners about STDs, and getting tested regularly can lower your chances of getting Trachomoniasis. For men, symptoms include itching inside the penis, burning sensation after urination or ejaculation, discharge from the penis. For women, symptoms are itching, burning, redness of the genitals, discomfort during urination, and change in vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge can become thin, thick or frothy, and can have a fishy smell. However, it’s important to get tested regularly as 70% of people infected with Trichomoniasis do not show symptoms.
Trichomoniasis does not lead to further health complications. But pregnant women are at risk of giving birth prematurely and for the child to have a low birth weight. Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics. A follow-up check-up is recommended if the antibiotics were not taken as instructed or if the patient vomits after intake. Sexual intercourse during and 7 days after treatment is generally discouraged to prevent reinfection.
Gonorrhea is very common among young people between 15 to 24 years. Anyone who is sexually active, especially those who engage in unprotected sex, can get infected with Gonorrhea. Only 10% of men and 50% of women with Gonorrhea show symptoms, and these typically show 2 weeks after getting infected. The symptoms in women are unusual vaginal discharge (thin or watery and green or yellow in color), burning sensation during urination, pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area, bleeding between periods, heavier periods, and, although uncommon, bleeding after sex. In men, however, symptoms include unusual discharge from the penis (may be white, yellow, or green), pain or burning sensation when urinating, inflammation of the foreskin, and rarely, pain or tenderness in the testicles. Other parts of the body can also get infected if it comes in contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid. The eyes, for example, can develop conjunctivitis or experience pain, swelling, and irritation. The rectum can experience discomfort, pain, or discharge when infected.
If untreated, patients with gonorrhea risk developing serious complications, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in women and pain in the tubes attached to the testicles or sterility in men. On rare occasions, gonorrhea can spread to the blood o