Having sex is fun, but having unprotected sex can land you with a sexually transmitted disease. While you know that STD is an infection that’s passed on from one person to another during sex, you’d be shocked to know that there are more than 20 different types of STDs that can be passed on during vaginal, oral or anal sex through exchange of body fluids or even skin-to-skin genital contact.
STDs can be caused by viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections. Though they can be successfully treated, if left unattended, they could cause other complications in the body such as skin rashes, sores, hair loss, pregnancy complications and even infertility. April is STD awareness month and it’s the right time for you to know about some of the most common infections. They can be:
The bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the cause of gonorrhea. It quickly colonizes around the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract. A discharge from the penis or vagina and pain or difficulty in urinating are the most common symptoms.
If not treated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, ectopic pregnancy (a fatal condition in which the fetus develops in abnormal places outside of the womb) and may even spread to the developing fetus if acquired during pregnancy. In extreme negligence, gonorrhea can infect the mouth, throat, rectum and eyes and may spread to the blood and joints and may become life-threatening.(1)
A common STD caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, chlamydia can cause abdominal pain, fever and unusual discharge from the vagina or penis. It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which, if left untreated, can progress to other part of the female reproductive system such as the fallopian tubes and the uterus. It could cause permanent damage to the reproductive organs leading to infertility. Chlamydia can also be passed on during pregnancy or delivery that could cause eye infection or pneumonia in the baby.(2)
Spread through direct sexual contact with sores called chancres, syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema palladium. The first symptom is a painless genital sore that often appears on the penis or in and around the vagina. The sores eventually resolve on their own, even without treatment.
As the body can’t clear the infection on its own, syphilis may affect other organs such as the heart, blood vessels, bones, liver and joints over time which is known as secondary syphilis. If the disease is still left untreated, tertiary syphilis may develop which could spread to the eyes, nerves and the brain and prove fatal.(3)
4. Genital Herpes
A contagious infection caused by either of the two variants of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2), genital herpes may cause fever blisters or cold sores on the lips (symptoms of HSV-1). It also causes painful, watery skin blisters around the genitals or anus (symptoms of HSV-2). Pregnant women may pass on their infection to newborns, which may lead to life-threatening neonatal HSV, an infection that could affect the infants brain, skin and other organs.(4,5)
5. Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus affects the liver and could cause cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and cancer. Spreading through both heterosexual and homosexual contact, it could also be passed on through shared contaminated needles used during piercing or tattooing or injecting intravenous (IV) drugs. Hepatitis B infection is preventable through vaccination. (6)
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The HIV virus kills the blood cells that fight infection, thus destroying the body’s immune system. Over a period of time, the body loses its ability to fight off and recover from infections.
People with HIV who have progressed to AIDS are susceptible to simple infections that don’t normally make people sick. The virus may be acquired through unprotected sexual activity or sharing of infected needles. The virus could also spread from the mother to the infant during pregnancy, delivery and breast feeding. (7)
7. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
One of the most common STDs, there are more than 40 types of HPV. Depending on the type of HPV, the virus can cause genital warts, cancer of the cervix, vulva, mouth and penis.(8)
8. Yeast Infection (Candida)
Caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida, the yeast infection can spread by unprotected sexual activity. Pain during intercourse, vaginal itching, burning while urinating and white discharge are signs of a yeast infection.
Caused by the single-celled protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis, trichomoniasis is common in young, sexually active women. Symptoms of trichomoniasis infection include frequent, painful, or burning urination, genital soreness, redness, or itching in women and vaginal discharge.
Because the infection can occur without symptoms, a person may be unaware of his/her infection and continue to re-infect a sexual partner who may show recurrent signs of infection.(9)
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, June 4). Gonorrhea-CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/STDFact-gonorrhea.htm
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, February 8). Chlamydia-CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/STDFact-Chlamydia.htm
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, November 17). 2010 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance: Syphilis. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats10/syphilis.htm
4. Xu, F., Sternberg, M. R., Kottiri, B. J., McQuillan, G. M., Lee, F. K., Nahmias, A. J., Berman, S. M., & Markowitz, L. E. (2006). Trends in herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 seroprevalence in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association, 296(8):964-973.
5. Marquez, L., Levy, M. L., Munoz, F. M., & Palazzi, D. L. (2011). A report of three cases and review of intrauterine herpes simplex virus infection. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 30, 153-157. PMID 20811312
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, January 28). Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. Vaccine-preventable STDs. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/vaccine.htm#a1
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Prevention Information Network. (n.d.). HIV/AIDS Introduction. Retrieved April 15, 2015 from http://www.cdcnpin.org/scripts/hiv
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, March 22). Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Human papilloma virus (HPV). Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, November 30). Trichomoniasis-CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/STDFact-Trichomoniasis.htm