Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that can be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected individual. These are also termed sexually transmitted infections or STIs. STDs can be transmitted during vaginal or other types of sexual intercourse including oral and anal sex.
The causative organisms behind STDs include:
- Viruses such as HIV virus, hepatitis B, herpes complex and human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Bacteria such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia and syphilis
Who is at risk?
Anybody who has engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse or contact is at risk of transmitting an STD. However, the risk is higher in certain groups which include:
- Those with multiple sex partners
- Those with partners who have had multiple sex partners
- Those who do not use condoms during sexual activities
- Those who have sexual partners who do not use condoms during sexual activities
- Commercial sex workers
- Drug abusers who tend to practice high-risk sexual behavior
Symptoms of STDs
The symptoms of STDs vary with the type of infection but they commonly include:
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
- Itching around the genitalia
- Pain experienced during sexual intercourse or while urinating. The pain may be of a stabbing or burning nature or a dull pain in the pelvic area.
- Chancre sores that are typically painless, red sores present around the genital area, anus, mouth, tongue or throat.
- Pain in and around the anus. Similarly, there may be sores and pain in those practicing oral sex with an infected person.
- There may be blisters around the genital area that turn into scabs.
- There may also be soft, flesh colored-warts around the genital area.
- There may be a scaly rash over the palms of the hand and soles of the feet.
- In the case of hepatitis infection, urine may appear dark and stools a light and chalky colour. The whites of the eyes, nail beds and skin may also become a yellowish colour.
- General symptoms include fever, weakness, body and muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.
- In people with HIV infection that has progressed to AIDS, weight loss, recurrent infections, night sweats and tiredness may present.
Diagnosis and treatment
People who indulge in high-risk sexual behavior as well as those with STD symptoms need to be checked for the presence of STDs. If not treated, these infections may have long-term severe consequences and can also be passed onto partners of the infected individual. The primary approach to treatment, which varies according to the type of infection, is preventing further transmission of the infection and treating all the sexual partners involved.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc