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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sexually transmitted infections and diseases are among the most common infections in the U.S. today. STDs affect more than 19 million American men and women each year.


Six Common STDs

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases (opportunistic infections) and to certain forms of cancer. Transmission of the virus primarily occurs during sexual activity and by sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs. Treatment for HIV / AIDS includes the use of antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations.


Chlamydia is now the most common of all STDs in men and women. Chlamydial infection may cause an abnormal genital discharge and burning with urination. However, many people with chlamydial infection have few or no symptoms of infection. Once diagnosed, chlamydial infections are treatable with an antibiotic drug.

Genital Herpes

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes infections. Major symptoms of herpes infection are painful blisters or open sores in the genital area. These symptoms may be preceded by tingling or burning sensations in the legs, buttocks or genital area. Herpes sores usually disappear within two to three weeks. However, the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time. Severe or frequently recurrent genital herpes is now treated with Acyclovir, an antiviral drug available by prescription. Acyclovir helps control symptoms but does not eliminate the herpes virus from the body. Women who get genital herpes virus during pregnancy can transmit it to their babies. Untreated HSV infection in newborns can result in mental retardation / death.


The most common symptoms of gonorrhea are a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination. Historically, penicillin has been used to treat gonorrhea. However, several penicillin-resistant forms of the bacteria have recently appeared. Other antibiotics or combinations of drugs must be used to treat these resistant strains.

HPV and Genital Warts

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Most are harmless, but about 30 types put you at risk for cancer. These types affect the genitals and you become infected with them through sexual contact with an infected partner. They are classified as either low-risk or high-risk.

Low-risk HPV can cause genital warts. High-risk HPV can lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women. In men, it can lead to cancers of the anus and penis. Your health care provider can treat or remove the warts. In women, traditional Pap smears can detect changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer. A new type of DNA Pap smear can also detect the presence of the virus in your body.

Gardasil, a new FDA-approved vaccine, can protect against several types of HPV, including those that can cause cervical cancer. Gardasil is recommended for girls as young as nine, before they become sexually active, and young women who are or may become sexually active. It has not been approved for males and cannot be used to treat HPV in males.


The first symptoms of syphilis may go undetected because they are very mild and disappear spontaneously. The initial symptom is a chancre, a painless open sore that usually appears on the penis or around or in the vagina. If untreated, syphilis can progress to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and eventually, serious complications of the heart and central nervous system. The full course of the disease can take years. Penicillin remains the drug most commonly used to treat syphilis.

The ABCs of STDs

Education is key, whether you are 16 or 65. Follow the ABCs of STD prevention:

  • Abstinence
  • Be faithful to a partner who is also faithful to you
  • Condoms: use them correctly

More Information about Prevention and Risk Reduction

The most effective way to prevent the spread of STDs, is to abstain from sexual intercourse (oral, vaginal or anal sex). If you do have sex, be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Use latex condoms consistently and correctly. Scientific research has shown that latex condoms are an effective barrier against HIV and the viruses and bacteria that cause major STDs.

For more information, contact this organization:

  • U.S. Public Health Service confidential toll-free hotline number: 1-800-342-2437

By Marilyn De Angelis Pennell

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