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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are the most common contagious diseases in the United States aside from the common cold and flu. Many people infected with STDs do not show immediate symptoms. To protect yourself against STDs, it is helpful to understand what they are and how they are contracted.

Anyone sexually active may get an STD. They may be spread through contact with skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. While most can be treated and cured, others cannot. STDs pose serious risks to long-term health and can lead to death.

During pregnancy, health problems ranging from eye infections to stillbirth or miscarriage can be caused by having an STD. If you are pregnant and have had an STD, or if your partner has had an STD, contact our office urgently. Early treatment lowers the chance of transmission to the baby.

To protect yourself against infections, it is important to know the facts about STDs, focus on prevention, get tested regularly, and begin treatment early if you test positively for a STD.

Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

These diseases often occur simultaneously and are caused by bacteria. Those infected often show no symptoms. When symptoms do occur they may appear anywhere from two days to three weeks after infection and may include:

– Discharge from the vagina or penis
– Painful or frequent urination
– Genital Warts
– Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
– Burning or itching in the vaginal area
– Redness or swelling of the vulva
– Bleeding between periods
– Sore Throat with or without fever
– Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes

Antibiotics may be used to treat Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. If left untreated, these diseases can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. Fever, nausea and vomiting, and pain in the abdomen are all symptoms of PID. PID affects the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries and can cause infertility.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is one of the most common STDs in the United States and over one hundred variations of the virus have been identified. Some forms of HPV cause painful warts. These appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix, and anus of women and may show on the penis, scrotum, anus, or any other area in the genital region for men. Warts caused by HPV may be treated, but never with over-the-counter medication.

Preventative Measures:

Two vaccines are available to prevent infection against some forms of HPV. Both vaccines are administered to females between nine and twenty-six years old in three doses over a six-month period. These vaccines do not protect against all forms of the virus, and it is still necessary to be screened regularly for cervical cancer after receiving either vaccine.

Syphilis

Caused by bacteria, syphilis can affect many parts of the body and can be deadly. It is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Most people will show no symptoms of syphilis. The first symptoms may include warts and a skin rash or a painless, smooth sore at the area of infection. At this early stage, syphilis may be easily treated with antibiotics. These sores often appear on the genitals or in the vagina, anus, or rectum. They may also occur on the lips or mouth. Untreated, these sores may disappear, but the disease will remain and can return years later.

Genital Herpes

Common symptoms of the genital herpes virus include red sores resembling blisters or bumps on or around the genitals. These may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. While symptoms clear, the virus will persist and settle at nerve cells near the spine and may be transmitted unknowingly. When a breakout occurs, avoid sexual contact with your partner until a few days after the scabs have gone away.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

HIV causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The virus enters the bloodstream through exchange of body fluids, more commonly blood or semen. When infected, the virus targets and kills cells of the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable against disease.
If the virus leads to AIDS, other life-threatening conditions like cancer or infections may occur. There is no cure for HIV, but treatment may prevent or delay AIDS, which can be fatal.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is caused by a virus which affects the liver. Hepatitis B and C may be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or even saliva. While there is a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B infection, there are none to protect against Hepatitis C. Once treated, most recover from either form of Hepatitis immediately, but some develop chronic liver infections.

Tips on How to Protect Yourself from STDs

You are at a higher risk for STDs if you:

– Have had more than one sexual partner
– Have had a sexual partner who has had multiple sexual    partners.
– Have sex with someone who has an STD
– Have a history of STDs
– Use intravenous drugs or have a partner who uses    intravenous drugs.

To better protect yourself from STDs, avoid these behaviors when possible and always practice those below:

– Know your sexual partner’s history.
– Limit your number of sexual partners.
– Use a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have    vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
– Avoid risky sex practices—especially acts that tear the skin.
– Get immunized—make sure to get vaccinations to prevent    Hepatitis B and HPV.

If you believe you have an STD, seek medical treatment immediately to avoid long-term health problems and to protect yourself and your partners.

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