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House Calls / Dr. Michael Schwartz

Published 9:13 am, Sunday, March 24, 2013
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Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that are transmitted via sexual contact with an infected individual. There are many different types of STDs, most of which are generally spread during oral, vaginal or anal sex. Risk factors for contracting these diseases include unprotected sexual contact, having multiple sexual partners, sexual contact with a partner who has had multiple sexual partners or with partners with drug and alcohol abuse. Most STDs can be avoided simply by practicing safe sex. This includes using a condom and avoiding high risk sexual behavior.

Examples of

common STDs

Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria. People with chlamydia may have very few symptoms, but left untreated, may permanently damage the reproductive organs. Symptoms include burning upon urination and pain with intercourse. Men may experience pain or burning at the tip of the penis and women may develop abdominal pain and a vaginal discharge. The diagnosis can be made via a urine test or a swab. Treatment with antibiotics can result in curing this disease.

Gardnerella, also known as bacterial vaginosis, is caused by a bacteria. Although not always transmitted sexually, this disease can cause vaginal discharge and a foul odor. Once diagnosed, both partners should be treated with an antibiotic. However, symptoms can sometimes resolve without any treatment at all.

Gonorrhea is also caused by a bacteria. Symptoms usually appear between two and seven days after exposure and include penile or vaginal discharge, pain with urination, painful intercourse and a sore throat. Men may have a swelling of the testicles and women may have abnormal vaginal bleeding. People can have this STD without experiencing any symptoms at all, which can lead to their transmitting the disease to a partner(s) without their knowledge. The diagnosis is made with a simple urine test or swab and treatment (with an antibiotic given by pill or by injection) can cure the disease.

Hepatitis B is a virus more commonly transmitted by drug abusers who share needles. However, there have been reports of sexual transmission as well. Hepatitis affects the liver. A vaccine to prevent the disease is available. In most cases, the body successfully cures the disease without treatment; however, chronic infections do occur and can lead to liver destruction and cancer.

Hepatitis C is also a virus which affects the liver. This disorder is rarely spread via sexual contact, however transmission has been reported. No vaccine is available to prevent the disease; however, a simple blood test can confirm whether or not a person is infected. In most cases, hepatitis C becomes chronic and may lead to liver scarring and death. Treatments are available, but cure is difficult to achieve.

Herpes simplex is another virus that is contracted during sexual contact with someone who is infected and has an outbreak. Initial symptoms include a "buzz" or "itch" in the genital area (or a cold-sore on the lip) followed by the appearance of painful fluid-filled crusty lesions. If medications are taken as soon as symptoms appear, the symptoms can be minimized. Diagnosis is made by a culture of the lesion. However, a blood test may also confirm exposure. There is no cure; however a medication taken daily can significantly reduce the risk of additional outbreaks.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be transmitted via high-risk sexual contact. Initially, the symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu, including fevers, fatigue, joint pains and sore throat. Symptoms usually occur two to four weeks after a person is infected. Early diagnosis is crucial in minimizing the risk in transmission to others. If you believe you have had high risk sexual contact with someone who is infected, early treatment may prevent your risk of getting HIV. A blood test or oral swab is available to test for the disease. Treatments have improved so much over the years, that HIV infected individuals often have few or no symptoms. However, there is no cure.

Human papilloma virus (HPV), also known as genital warts, is caused by a virus. These warts can appear on the penis, vagina or rectal area. Untreated, these warts can lead to cervical cancer. In general, the body will eradicate the virus within two years; however, local treatment to remove the actual wart may decrease the risk of transmission. A vaccine is available for both men and women to reduce the risk of contracting the disease.

Scabies and lice are insects which cause severe itching in the genital area. Medications including creams and liquids applied to the area will cure the disease.

Syphilis is caused by a spirochete, a unique type of bacteria. Once infected, patients usually develop several firm, painless, circular lesions around the genital areas. These initial symptoms can take several weeks to develop and usually heal (without treatment) in another three to six weeks. The disease then spreads throughout the body, causing a rash which may include the palms of the hands. Additional symptoms include fevers, chills, joint pains and fatigue. If not treated, patients may develop dementia, irregular heartbeats and even blindness. Syphilis is diagnosed with a blood test and treated with antibiotics. If antibiotics are started early in the disease, syphilis is easily cured. However, the symptoms of latent syphilis are more difficult to treat.

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. More common in women, most patients who are infected will have few or no symptoms. However, painful urination or irritation of the genitals may occur. Women may notice a yellow or green vaginal discharge with an odor. In addition, it may cause painful intercourse. Diagnosis is made by examining the discharge under a microscope. Treatment and cure is a single-dose antibiotic pill.

Recommendations

to reduce your risk

Always practice safe sex. Condoms not only reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy but also significantly reduce the risk of contracting an STD. However, remember that these diseases can be transmitted during oral sex and anal sex (which carries an increased risk of transmission).

Limit your sexual partners. While a monogamous sexual relationship is safest, always make sure that your partner(s) are screened in advance for STDs. Also, get tested frequently for all STDs.

Education is key. Understanding your risk and taking steps to reduce them are the most important aspect of preventing STDs.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at www.drmichaelbschwartz.com.