Diseases that are spread through sexual contact are referred to as sexually transmitted diseases or STDs.
Because the term disease is most often associated with a clear medical issue that usually has distinguishable signs or symptoms, experts in the field suggest that the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should replace STDs. Many of the most common STI and/or STDs have either minor symptoms that can be overlooked or ignored, or no symptoms at all.
There are more than 19 million new cases of STI/STDs reported in the United States each year. Although they affect people of all ages and all backgrounds, more than half occur among youths between the ages of 15 and 24. Anyone who has sex is at risk whether they are young or old, male or female, or have one or multiple partners. Education concerning STD/STIs should be the first step in reducing one’s risk of infection.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD/STIs. It is a bacterial infection transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex in both men and women. It is treatable with antibiotics, but because there may be no symptoms, it may go undiagnosed. Women who do notice symptoms usually complain of pain, burning and discharge. Men with symptoms report discharge, pain or burning. It is necessary to treat both partners at the same time to prevent re-infection.
Gonorrhea is another common STI/STD caused by bacteria and spread through sexual contact. Any sexually active person may become infected, but the CDC reports that gonorrhea is most common among teenagers and young adults. Left untreated, gonorrhea causes serious health problems, especially in women.
The rates of syphilis, another STI/STD, are on the rise especially among men who have sex with other men. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are all treatable with antibiotics. Unfortunately, the bacteria that cause these STI/STDs are developing resistance to the most effective antibiotics. A person who has an untreated STI/STD is two to five times more likely to develop HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, than an uninfected person.
Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STIs. Most people infected with HPV are unaware that they are infected because they have no symptoms or health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 90 percent of the cases, the person’s immune system clears HPV naturally. The infections that are not cleared naturally may cause genital warts, warts in the throat and cervical cancer as well as other less common, but serious types of cancer.
There is a vaccine available to prevent the development of HPV. It is currently available for young girls and boys. The vaccine is most effective in preventing HPV if given prior to sexual activity.
The only way to avoid an STI/STD is to either abstain from sex or only have sex with a long-term monogamous partner who tests negative for STI/STDs. For more information, visit the CDC’s website at CDC.org.