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STDs and HIV

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a variety of clinical syndromes and infections caused by pathogens that can be acquired and transmitted through sexual activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses that prevention and control of STDs are based on the following:

  • Education and counseling of persons at risk in order to change sexual behaviors
  • Vaccination (not available for all STDs) of at risk persons, prior to exposure
  • Identification of infected persons both with or without symptoms
  • Effective diagnosis, treatment, counseling, and follow up of infected persons
  • Evaluation, treatment, and counseling of sex partners of infected persons

For more information: www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

HIV weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infections. Only certain body fluids (blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk) can transmit HIV to another person. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur. Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the most severe phase of HIV infection. People with AIDS have weakened immune systems and are prone to an increasing number of severe illnesses. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years.

No effective cure exists, but HIV can be controlled with proper medical care. Males and females age 15 to 65, or anyone else at increased risk, should be screened. All pregnant women should be screened.

For more information: www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the U.S. Chlamydia is caused by bacteria and is treated with antibiotics. After treatment, retesting should occur in three months.

Gonorrhea is another common bacterial STD and the symptoms are similar to chlamydia. Most men with gonorrhea get symptoms, but only about 20% of women do. Gonorrhea is easily treated with antibiotics.

Screening for both chlamydia and gonorrhea should occur annually for all sexually active women age 25 and younger, and in older women at increased risk. This can be in the form of a urine test.

Syphilis

Syphilis has four stages. In the primary stage, the main symptom is a sore. The secondary stage starts with a rash on the body, followed by sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus. Symptoms usually disappear in the third (latent) stage which can last for years. The final stage of untreated syphilis can cause organ and nerve damage, and brain problems. Antibiotics can treat syphilis and early treatment is best.

Genital Herpes

Both strains of the herpes virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can cause genital herpes. Herpes may cause painful blisters around the sexual organs. Herpes can be easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The blister stage is the most contagious, but it can also be transmitted in the absence of blisters. Because herpes is a virus, it cannot be cured, but it can be managed by medication.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

HPV, the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the U.S., is named for the warts (papillomas) it can cause. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. It can be transmitted even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms, and can develop years after contact.

Most types of HPV have no symptoms and cause no harm. However, some cause genital warts or infect the mouth and throat. Cancer of the cervix, penis, mouth, or throat can occur. Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV.

HPV vaccines can protect males and females and are recommended at age 11 or 12. Routine pap tests for women aged 21 to 65 years are also important to screen for cervical cancer.