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The 9 Serious STDS

Posted Feb 20 2009 7:53am


The latest estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there are approximately 19 million new STD infections each year, with almost half of those occurring in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24. Almost half of women have a sexual problem of some sort, according to a report today from HealthDay. Since sexually transmitted diseases often are announced only by nonspecific signs (like abdominal pain and fever), they may easily be mistaken for other illnesses—and that means the number of cases may actually be much higher.

That's not good, say experts: Certain STDs, undiagnosed and untreated, can wreak havoc, bringing serious and even life-threatening consequences.


Here's a list ofnine serious STDs—and one that's just a nuisance:

1. Chlamydia. Nicknamed the "silent disease," chlamydia often does its damage unnoticed; indeed, it produces virtually no symptoms in about half the men and three quarters of the women who get it, according to the CDC. But that can mean trouble, especially for women: Infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and dangerous ectopic pregnancies can result if the infection isn't stopped with antibiotics. While men rarely experience complications, the infection can spread to the tube that shuttles sperm, leading to pain, fever, and a remote chance of sterility. Once a woman has been infected with chlamydia, she is up to five times more likely to contract HIV if exposed to the virus. To avoid serious problems, the CDC urges—at a minimum— annual screening tests for all sexually active women ages 25 and under, as well as tests for all pregnant women. A mother's untreated chlamydia infections can invade a newborn's eyes and respiratory tract, which is why it's the leading cause of pink eye and pneumonia in infants, according to the CDC.

2. Syphilis. Once thought to be nearly eradicated in the United States, syphilis has staged a comeback in the past decade. It is most common among men with same-sex partners, although women, too, can become infected. Syphilis typically unfolds in stages, the first of which is marked by a small, often painless sore that may heal on its own (it is through direct contact with syphilis sores that the bacterial infection is spread.) If untreated, a rash of red-brown spots may pock the palms of hands and soles of feet, a sign that the infection has progressed to its second stage. Fever, swollen glands, a sore throat, hair loss, headaches, and other symptoms of this stage may emerge and resolve on their own. Without treatment, however, late-stage syphilis will develop. This can take up to 20 years, but it can involve such extensive damage to vital organs like the brain, heart, blood vessels, nerves, liver, bones, and joints that a person can't survive.

3. Genital Human Papillomavirus. It's a common complaint but should not be taken lightly: Although 90 percent of cases will be resolved by a person's own immune system within two years, some of the 40-plus HPV strains that infect the genitals boost the risk of certain cancers, according to the CDC. Cervical cancer, for one, can be especially dangerous because it tends not to produce symptoms until it's quite advanced. More rarely, HPV infections can lead to vulvar, vaginal, anal, or penile cancer. Since the infection is caused by a virus, there is no treatment (although warts can be removed by medications or physicians). Regular Pap tests and exams are recommended to flag signs of cancer before it can develop. Gardasil, a vaccine that can protect women against some of the strains linked to cervical cancer, is recommended for some women.

4. Gonorrhea. Like chlamydia, this common bacterial STD can progress silently, leaving people with intractable health problems. Symptoms such as discolored penile discharge or signs that mimic those of a bladder or vaginal infection may occur. Unnoticed and untreated, gonorrhea can cause infertility in both men and women. It is also a common culprit behind pelvic inflammatory disease. Once treated with antibiotics, people can be re-infected by untreated partners.

5. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Pelvic inflammatory disease occurs when the uterus, fallopian tubes, or other female reproductive organs become invaded by infection-causing bacteria. Two common culprits are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Each year, more than 100,000 women are left infertile by an untreated case of PID, which can be cured with antibiotics, according to the CDC. PID can lead to lifelong pelvic pain and pus-filled internal abscesses and can raise the odds of ectopic pregnancies. Suspicious vaginal discharge, painful sex or urination, and bleeding between periods may all be signs that something is awry.

6. Trichomoniasis. A one-celled parasite causes this STD, and a frothy, odorous, greenish-yellow discharge can be a sign that a woman has it. Infected men don't usually show signs, though some may experience abnormal penile discharge or pain after urinating or ejaculating. Trichomoniasis can make women more likely to contract HIV if exposed and may increase the likelihood that an HIV-infected woman will transmit HIV to her partner. Trichomoniasis is curable with medications.

7. Genital Herpes. Some victims have bouts of painful genital sores, but many who are infected with genital herpes are unaware because symptoms may be absent or confused with the flu. Caused by two types of the herpes simplex virus, genital herpes has no cure, though antiviral medications may help manage the severity of outbreaks. Because it's a chronic infection, genital herpes can be psychologically distressing for those infected and can cause potentially deadly infections in babies if transmitted from a mother. Transmission from mother to baby is rare, but freshly acquired genital herpes late in pregnancy can boost the risk, says the CDC.

8. HIV. The virus that causes AIDS can lie dormant with no signs for over a decade, though symptoms include extreme fatigue, swollen lymph glands, persistent diarrhea, dry cough, rapid weight loss, pneumonia, night sweats, and a recurring fever. While any of these symptoms alone may not be cause for alarm, since they could be caused by a slew of other illnesses, the only way to be sure is to be tested, advises the CDC. Untreated, HIV can cripple the immune system. The infection may not ever advance to AIDS, but if it does, it can be deadly. While drugs can halt the progression of the virus, no cure exists. Click here to learn more about the prevalence of HIV infections among black women or here to read about one young woman's battle with HIV.

9. Chancroid. This bacterial infection is quite common in Africa and Asia and is also infecting Americans. Chancroid can cause ulcer-like genital sores that are often accompanied by swollen lymph nodes around the groin. Like many STDs, untreated chancroid makes it easier to acquire and spread HIV.

10. Crabs. Days after sex or intimate contact, the intense itching may start—a sign that these blood-sucking parasites may have chosen an unfortunate place to call home. The tiny lice typically spread by moving from one person's pubic hair to a partner's, although it is possible to acquire crabs from clothing, furniture, or bedding. The critters can survive without a human host for about 24 hours.

How is herpes spread?

Direct contact with the live virus including: 

  • Any direct contact with an herpes infection
  • Kissing, touching or caressing actively infected areas
  • Sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal sex)
  • Cold sores or mouth herpes can be spread by sharing the same drinking glass, lipstick, cigarette, etc. 

Herpes can be spread by any of the following real-life situations:

Kissing someone if you have a cold sore can transfer the virus to any part of the body that you kiss them (including inside of the mouth and throat, or the genitals)

The virus can be transmitted to your partner if you have active genital herpes and have vaginal or anal intercourse

f you have a cold sore and put your mouth on your partner's genitals (oral sex), your partner can be infected with genital herpes. Consequently, oral sex should definitely be avoided if one partner has a facial herpes attack.

People who experience an episode of herpes, either facial or genital, should consider themselves infectious from the first sign of an outbreak to the healing of the last ulcer.

Occasionally, one partner in a long-term relationship may develop symptoms of herpes for the first time. Often this is due to one or both of the partners being asymptomatic carriers of HSV and not knowing it. 

A mother can pass the virus onto her baby during pregnancy or at birth.

One kind of complication involves spreading the virus from the location of an outbreak to other places on the body by touching the sore(s). The fingers, eyes, and other body areas can accidentally become infected in this way. Preventing self-infection is simple. Do not touch the area during an outbreak. If you do, wash your hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water.

Reports have been sited of possible transmission via 'Hot tubs"or "Spa Baths" but there is scientific skepticism as to whether or not the virus can be transmitted via inanimate objects such as toilet seats.

It is generally considered that the spreading of genital herpes through inanimate objects, such as soap, towels, clothing, bed sheets, toilet seats, and spa surfaces is highly unlikely because the herpes virus cannot live very long outside of the body.

Asymptomatic Transmission -Can Herpes Be Transmitted Without Symptoms?

Sometimes those who know they are infected spread the virus between outbreaks when no signs or symptoms are present.  This is called asymptomatic transmission.

Herpes simplex infections are often spread by people who are unaware they are infected because their symptoms may be so mild as to be unnoticeable or may not relate the symptoms to herpes.

Many genital herpes infections are spread by asymptomatic "shedders" of the virus. The virus can still be present in people with no obvious lesions during periods of asymptomatic virus shedding.

Many couples have had sexual relations for years without transmitting herpes.  Some simply avoid having sexual contact when signs or symptoms are present, while others use condoms or other protection between outbreaks to help protect against asymptomatic shedding.

Asymptomatic virus shedding cannot be predicted but is known to occur on at least 5% of days during the year.

Can Herpes be transmitted during pregnancy and or be passed onto the baby?

Infants can become infected with the herpes virus.  If you have ever been exposed to herpes talk with your doctor before planning a pregnancy, even if you have never had symptoms or have not experienced a recurrence in a long time.

You will need to contact your health care professional for more information about pregnancy with herpes, and to obtain appropriate tests and follow-up care for the pregnancy.

Should you have herpes present in the birth canal near the time of delivery, a caesarean section might be necessary to protect the newborn from coming into direct contact with the virus.

Babies can also contract herpes from being kissed by someone with a cold sore (5 - 8%). A young child cannot fight off infections as easily as an adult can, so serious health problems can occur.  If you suffer from cold sores take every precaution not to put an infant child at risk. 

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