Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Facts about Herpes

  • Women are twice as likely as men to be infected with the herpes virus, and black women are the most likely group to have herpes. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) (also known as cold sores or fever blisters) or type 2 (HSV-2), although most cases are caused by HSV-2.
  • Herpes can be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. Herpes can be passed on even if the infected person does not have an active outbreak.
  • Because of decreased lubrication and thinning and tearing of delicate vaginal skin, herpes transmission can occur more easily in older women than in younger women.
  • Signs of an infection are one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. These blisters rupture into painful ulcers that last 2–4 weeks. Symptoms appear about 2 weeks after infection. If you are infected with herpes, there is a chance that you will not have any symptoms, but you will still be a carrier of the virus.
  • Other symptoms during the primary episode may include a second crop of sores and flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen glands.
  • Many people have no signs or only minimal signs or symptoms of herpes, meaning your partner may not know that he has genital herpes.
  • Subsequent outbreaks can appear weeks or months after the first. these are typically is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak.
  • Herpes infection can last indefinitely.

Facts about HPV

  • HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. At least 50% of sexually active people have genital HPV at some point in their lives.
  • HPV can infect women of any age. About 19% of women 50 through 59 years of age are infected with HPV. It is passed on through genital contact, mostly during vaginal and anal sex.
  • Many people who have genital HPV do not know they have it some cases, HPV can cause genital warts or cervical and other cancers. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.
  • There is no cure for HPV, but there are treatments for genital warts and cervical cancer.
  • Factors that increase the risk of HPV infection include: having unprotected sex with multiple partners; having sex with a partner whose sexual history is unknown; having sex at a young age, and having had another sexually transmitted disease.
  • Using a condom may lower the chances of getting HPV, but it does not fully protect people from the virus, because HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom.
  • A vaccine is available to protect young people against HPV infection. These vaccines are given in 3 doses over 6 months. However, the vaccines are most effective when all doses are received before a person has sexual contact with his or her first partner.

Facts about Genital Warts

  • Genital warts usually appear as a flesh-colored bump or groups of bumps. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. They can be diagnosed by visual observation.
  • In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, and the cervix.
  • Genital warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the partner has no signs of the disease. If left untreated, these warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number.
  • Treating the warts aggressively right after they appear is discouraged. They could still be emerging. When treatment is indicated, physicians can prescribe one of two types of creams: podofilox (Condylox) and imiquimod (Aldara).

Gonorrhea

  • Gonorrhea is the second most common STD in the United States. It is estimated that more than 700,000 people are infected with gonorrhea each year.
  • Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can grow and multiply in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix (the opening to the womb), the uterus (the womb), the fallopian tubes (the egg canals), and the urethra (urine canal) in women. It can also grow in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus.
  • Gonorrhea is passed through contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. It can also be passed from mother to baby during delivery.
  • Gonorrhea can infect any sexually active person, including older adults.
  • Women who are infected with gonorrhea often have no symptoms. They can pass gonorrhea to others without knowing it. If symptoms appear, they will vary depending on what part of the body is infected:
    • Infection in the uterus or urinary tract may cause vaginal bleeding between periods, pain or burning during urination, or increased vaginal discharge.
    • Infection in the rectum may cause itching, soreness, bleeding, a discharge from the rectum, or painful bowel movements.
    • Infection in the throat may cause a throat sore.
  • If left untreated, gonorrhea infection in women can lead to serious health problems:
    • It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which may damage the fallopian tubes and lead to infertility.
    • It could increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, a dangerous condition for both the mother and the fetus.
    • It can also spread to the blood or joints, causing a life-threatening condition.
    • It can increase the risk of the development of HIV infection. People with both HIV infection and gonorrhea are more likely than people with HIV infection alone to transmit HIV to someone else.
  • Gonorrhea can be diagnosed by means of a few different tests. Doctors can use a swab to take a sample from the cervix and then send the specimen to a laboratory to be analyzed. They can also check a urine sample for the presence of the bacteria.
  • Gonorrhea can be successfully cured by antibiotics. Patients typically receive treatment as an injection or as a single tablet. However, because of emerging strains of drug-resistant N. gonorrhoeae, the CDC now recommends dual therapy (i.e. using two drugs) for treatment. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done by the disease.
  • If you are diagnosed and treated for gonorrhea, notify all recent sex partners so they can see a health care provider and be treated. This will reduce the risk that the sex partners will develop serious complications from gonorrhea and will also reduce your risk of becoming re-infected. You and all your sex partners must avoid sex until the completion of the treatment.
  • Women should be tested for gonorrhea if they have any symptoms such as pain or burning during urination or vaginal discharge, a partner who has gonorrhea or symptoms that might indicate gonorrhea, or another STD such as chlamydia.
  • Women can protect themselves from gonorrhea by abstaining from sexual intercourse or only having sex with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Syphilis

  • Syphilis is an STD caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
  • Syphilis was once a major public health threat. After a treatment was developed in the late 1940s, the incidence of syphilis infection was largely decreased. However, there has been a gradual increase in newly reported cases since 2000. In 2006, there were more than 36,000 newly reported cases of syphilis in the United States, according to the CDC.
  • Syphilis is spread from sores that occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. They can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. You can get syphilis when having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with someone who has it, or when your mouth, genitals, or another part of your body touches a syphilis sore. Although syphilis is spread from sores, the majority of these sores go unrecognized. The infected person is often unaware of the disease and unknowingly passes it on to their sexual partner.
  • Syphilis cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
  • Syphilis stays in the body if left untreated, and it can damage the heart, brain, eyes, and other organs and cause serious and permanent problems such as dementia, blindness, or death. The disease has four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Syphilis is contagious during its primary and secondary stages and is sometimes contagious in the early latent period.
    • Primary syphilis. The first sign of syphilis is a small sore called a chancr . The sore appears at the spot where the bacteria entered the body. Although most people infected with syphilis develop only one chancre, some people have several of them. The chancre usually develops about 3 weeks after exposure. Many people who have syphilis do not notice the chancre because it is usually painless and it may be hidden within the vagina or rectum. The sore lasts 3 to 6 weeks, and it heals on its own. If an infected person does not receive treatment, the disease will progress to the next stage.
    • Secondary syphilis. Within a few weeks after the original chancre heals, a rash might develop on the hands, feet, or other parts of the body. Syphilis rashes are often red or brown and usually do not itch. Some people also have muscle aches, fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks or repeatedly come and go for as long as a year. If the infected person does not receive treatment, the disease will progress to the next stage.
    • Latent syphilis. If an infected person does not receive treatment for syphilis, the disease moves from the secondary to the latent stage, when no symptoms occur. The latent stage can last for years. Symptoms may never return, or the disease may progress to the tertiary stage.
    • Tertiary syphilis. About 15 to 30% of people infected with syphilis who do not receive treatment will develop complications known as tertiary or late syphilis. This is a very serious stage. The disease may damage enter the the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. It can cause difficulty in moving the arms and legs, paralysis, numbness, blindness, heart disease, and death.
  • Syphilis infection can increase a person’s risk of contracting HIV by two to five fold. A syphilis sore can bleed easily, providing an easy way for HIV to bloodstream during sexual activity.
  • Syphilis can be easily diagnosed with a quick and inexpensive blood test at a doctor's office or at a public health clinic. If a sore is present, doctors will take a swab or scraping of the sore and then send the specimen to a laboratory to be analyzed.
  • You should be tested for syphilis if you have any symptoms, such as a painless, round sore that may appear on your genitals or in your mouth or your partner has syphilis or symptoms that might be syphilis, even if you do not have symptoms.
  • People who have had syphilis for less than a year can be cured by one shot of the antibiotic penicillin. For people who have had syphilis for longer than a year, more doses of penicillin are needed. For people who are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics are available to treat syphilis. No home remedies or over-the-counter drugs will cure syphilis. Treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage, but it will not repair damage that has already occurred.
  • People who are being treated for syphilis must abstain from sexual contact until the infection is completely gone. Sexual partners of people with syphilis should be tested and, if necessary, treated.
  • You can lower your risk of syphilis by not having sex or having sex only with someone who is not infected and who has sex only with you, using condoms in the right way every time when having sex, controlling alcohol or drug use, and getting a blood test for syphilis from your doctor once a year.