Sexually Transmitted Diseases

September 27, 2011

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, refer to a variety of bacterial, viral, and other infections acquired through sexual contact. Sexually Transmitted Diseases are common reasons for visits to clinics and physicians’ offices. Sexually Transmitted Diseases produce significant morbidity and are estimated to cost the health care system billions of dollars each year.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases affect women of all social and economic backgrounds. Most Sexually Transmitted Diseases, however, occur in men and women between the ages of 19 and 25 years of age. Any sexually active person may be at risk for infection, particularly if he or she has multiple partners. Especially in women, many Sexually Transmitted Diseases are asymptomatic, which can increase their transmission and complications, as they are often passed on without knowledge. Screening tests are available for HIV, hepatitis B, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

Sexually Transmitted Disease SCREENING

Health care providers can help patients identify their risk factors and assess which screening tests, if any, should be done. The annual gynecological examination is a particular time to ask questions about Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and obtain appropriate testing. Screening is also particularly important during pregnancy, or for women planning to become pregnant. Several Sexually Transmitted Diseases may result in pregnancy complications, or transmission to the fetus, either during delivery or breast-feeding. Hepatitis B, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are all part of

routine prenatal screening. All pregnant women should also undergo HIV testing, because the transmission to the unborn fetus can be significantly reduced with appropriate treatment.

Sexually Transmitted Disease DIAGNOSIS

Patients and providers must work together to diagnose Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Patients may help by learning to identify symptoms and seeking medical treatment early, which may prevent the consequences of many Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Barrier methods of contraception, such as male or female condoms, can dramatically reduce transmission of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, but are not 100% effective.

The majority of Sexually Transmitted Diseases may be diagnosed either by simple office tests or by blood testing. Once a person is diagnosed with an STD, sexual partners should be notified promptly. Which Sexually Transmitted Diseases require that the doctor submit a report to local health authorities will vary from state to state.

Sexually Transmitted Disease TREATMENT

In most instances, diagnosing and treating an infection promptly will decrease potential long-term complications. In general, most infections that are caused by bacteria can usually be cured with antibiotic therapy (Table 1). However, there are several viral Sexually Transmitted Diseases, such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) or human papilloma-virus (HPV), that may not be curable by treatment. For these infections, symptoms can be treated and the infection can be controlled.

Table 1. Common sexually transmitted diseases
Infection Cause Symptoms Treatment or cure
Trichomonas Trichomonas vaginalis (protozoan) Foul-smelling vaginal discharge; irritation Antibiotics—vaginal or oral
Chlamydia Chlamydia trachomatis (bacteria) None; vaginal discharge, pelvic pain Antibiotics—oral
Gonorrhea Neisseria gonorrhoeae (bacteria) None; vaginal discharge, pelvic pain Antibiotics—oral or IM
Humanpapillomavirus (HPV) Human papilloma- virus Mild vaginal itching or burning Topical medications or surgical removal
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) Herpes simplex virus Vaginal burning or painful sores Antivirals do not cure, but can shorten symptoms
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) HIV None in early stages Antiretrovirals can provide long-term control of disease

Sexually Transmitted Disease PREVENTION

Education, particularly for young sexually active men and women, is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. While research is being done on vaccines for some Sexually Transmitted Diseases, prevention is still the best defense.

See Also: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes simplex virus, Human papillomavirus, Syphilis

Suggested Reading

  • Gripshover, B., & Valdez, H. (2002). Common sexually transmitted diseases. In J. S. Tan (Ed.), Experts guide to the management of common infectious diseases (pp. 271—303). Philadelphia: American College of Physicians.

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