Understanding STDs. What are the Risk Factors and how are they Treated?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sometimes called sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are conditions passed from one person to another mainly by sexual contact.
Caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites they are transmitted from an infected person via blood, semen and vaginal and bodily fluids. Some STDs are also spread in ways other than sex, by sharing needles, blood transfusions and from a mother to her infant child during pregnancy and childbirth.
Some common STIs and their causes are:
- Bacteria – gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia
- Virus – trichomoniasis
- Parasites – human papillomavirus (HPV), genital herpes, HIV
How do I know if I have a STD?
STDs don’t always cause obvious symptoms and a person might not realise they have been infected for some months. While symptoms vary depending on the STI, some of the more common signs of an infection are:
- Bumps or rashes around the genitals and rectal area;
- Painful urination;
- Itching and unusual discharge from the penis or vagina;
- Unusual vaginal bleeding pain during sex;
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area;
- Fever; and,
- Lower abdominal pain.
I think I might have a STD, what should I do?
It’s important to seek medical advice from your doctor as soon as possible if you may have been exposed to or have symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection.
And if you are sexually active, have had a blood transfusion or share needles, regular screening is a good idea anyway.
Your doctor will ask for a urine sample and may run blood tests or swabs. At-home testing offered by Nabta Health is also available and is a convenient option for some.
Most bacterial and parasitic infections can be treated with antibiotics. Viral STDs cannot be cured but symptoms can be managed with prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
If left untreated STDs can lead to more serious conditions including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease;
- Pregnancy complications;
- Loss of vision; and,
- HPV-associated cancers such as cervical, vulva, vaginal, penis and rectal cancers.
I am pregnant and had a STD in the past, should I tell my doctor?
If you are pregnant and worried about a previous or ongoing infection ask your doctor about STD testing. Certain STIs can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery and can cause serious complications for the infant. For this reason, most doctors will offer STI screening and treatment to pregnant women.
What are the risk factors and how can I avoid getting a STD?
The most common risk factors for STDs are unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner. Sex with multiple partners, previous history of a sexually transmitted infection and needle sharing will also increase your exposure.
Remember that birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) will not protect you against STIs. The only way to prevent STIs being transmitted from one person to another during sexual intercourse is to use a barrier method of contraception such as a condom or a dental dam. If you are unsure whether you or your partner has an STI, you can request a test from your doctor or get tested at home.
Vaccinations are available for the HPV virus, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the HPV vaccination for all preteens (including girls and boys) at age 11–12 years, so they are protected from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life.
Cancers Associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/cancers.htm
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/symptoms-causes/syc-20351240