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The Truth About STDs - Bacterial
By SIECUS
Mar 20, 2006, 09:15 PST



Download this Fact Sheet in PDF format

There are more than 25 diseases spread primarily by sexual activity. Together these infections-called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)-have created a significant public health challenge in the United States. While many STDs are curable, others are not. Even those that are curable often have no symptoms and go unrecognized for long periods of time. If left untreated, even curable STDs can result in long-term health problems for both men and women.

In the United States, an estimated 15 million people become infected with one or more STDs each year. In addition, an estimated 65 million people live with an incurable STD. Still, less than half of adults 18 to 44 years of age have ever been tested for an STD other than HIV/AIDS.1 This fact sheet is designed to provide health care professionals, educators, and individuals with basic information. It focuses on eight of the most common STDs and contains information on how they are spread, what signs and symptoms individuals should look for, and what treatment options are available. Those interested in learning more about these or other STDs can go the web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/disease_info.htm

Note: Some professionals use the term sexually transmitted infection (STI) instead of sexually transmitted disease (STD). This fact sheet uses the term STD.


TWO STD CATEGORIES: VIRAL AND BACTERIAL

STDs are often divided into two categories-viral and bacterial-based on the type of microorganism that causes the specific disease.

Those STDs caused by bacteria-such as Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and Chlamydia-are curable with antibiotics. On the other hand, those STDs caused by viruses are not curable. These include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Herpes, and Hepatitis B. Medical treatment can, however, alleviate the symptoms of these STDs.

Some STDs are also caused by protozoa (Trichomoniasis) and other organisms (crabs/pubic lice and scabies). These STDs are curable with antibiotics or topical creams/lotions.

TESTING FOR STDs: WHAT'S INVOLVED

Less than half of adults 18 to 44 years of age in the United States have been tested for an STD other than HIV. Some people may not seek a test because they do not know they are at risk. Others may not seek a test because they are nervous, embarrassed, or unsure of what the tests involve.

There are many different ways health care providers screen for STDs. These can include visually examining sores or lesions, collecting fluid from the urethra or cervix with a cotton swab, testing urine or blood, or conducting a biopsy.

Individuals should seek an early diagnosis and treatment at the first sign of symptoms to avoid serious complications. They should also talk to their health care providers about having a routine STD screening as part of their annual physical or gynecological exam since many STDs have no symptoms. Women need to understand that STD screenings are not necessarily part of their annual gynecological exam and that Pap smears do not screen for STDs other than HPV.1

Reference

  1. http://www.ashastd.org/news/112102.htm

BACTERIAL STDs

CHLAMYDIA

Chlamydia, which is caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis, targets the cells of mucous membranes including the surfaces of the urethra (male and female), vagina, cervix, and endometrium (the lining of the uterus) as well as the anus and rectum. Although possible, it rarely targets the mouth or throat. If left untreated in women, it can spread to the fallopian tubes and lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), a serious medical condition that can cause infertility.2

Chlamydia is transmitted through vaginal or cervical secretions and semen during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person. It can also be transmitted from mother to newborn during childbirth.3

Chlamydia is not transmitted through such casual contact as hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same eating utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilets, or touching door knobs.4

Signs and Symptoms5

  • Signs of infection usually appear within one to three weeks after contact. In some cases, infection is obvious only after several weeks or months. Approximately 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men do not have symptoms.
  • Women may experience such symptoms as itching, vaginal discharge, and burning during urination.
  • Some women may experience pain of the lower abdomen or back, pain during intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, nausea, or fever if the infection has spread to the fallopian tubes. This may indicate that the infection has progressed to PID.
  • Men may experience heaviness and discomfort in their testicles and inflammation of their scrotal skin. They may also notice pus in the form of a thick white fluid or watery or milky discharge from the penis. Men may also experience pain or burning during urination.

Testing6

Chlamydia is diagnosed through cultures of secretions collected from the urethra, anus, throat, or cervix. It is also diagnosed through urine tests.

Treatment

Chlamydia is curable with oral antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. All partners should undergo treatment at the same time to avoid passing the infection back and forth. They should also be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.

GONORRHEA

Gonorrhea, once known as "the clap," is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoea that grow in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women and the urethra in both women and men. The bacteria can also grow in the mouth, throat, and anus.7

Gonorrhea is transmitted through vaginal or cervical secretions and semen during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person. It can also be transmitted from mother to newborn during childbirth.

Gonorrhea is not transmitted through such casual contact as hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same eating utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilets, or touching door knobs.8

Signs and Symptoms9

  • Most men and women will experience no symptoms.
  • Men may show signs of infection within two to five days after exposure. Women may show signs within 10 days. The signs are similar to those of Chlamydia. Individuals should, therefore, receive tests for both STDs.
  • Men may experience such symptoms as a yellowish discharge from the penis, burning or pain during urination, frequent urination, and pain or swelling of the testicles.
  • Women may experience such symptoms as a yellow or bloody discharge from the vagina and burning or pain during urination.
  • Some women may experience pain of the lower abdomen or back, pain during intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, and nausea or fever if the disease has spread to the fallopian tubes. This is often an indication that the infection has progressed to PID.
  • Men and women may have a sore or red throat if the infection has spread to that part of the body.

Testing

Gonorrhea is diagnosed through cultures of secretions collected from the throat, urethra, anus, or cervix. It is also diagnosed through urine tests.10

Treatment

Gonorrhea is curable with oral antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. All partners should undergo treatment at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth. They should also be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.

SYPHILIS

Syphilis, which is caused by bacteria called spirochetes, causes sores (chancres) to appear mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. They can also appear on the lips and in the mouth.

There are three stages of syphilis. During the primary stage, which usually occurs within 10 to 90 days after exposure, a sore may appear. During the secondary phase, which usually occurs within 17 days to six-and-a-half months after exposure, a rash may appear on various parts of the body. If left untreated, Syphilis can proceed to the latent stage during which it may have no visible symptoms but can cause irreversible damage to internal organs.11

Syphilis is transmitted through direct contact with sores during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person. Syphilis can also be transmitted from mother to newborn during childbirth.12

Syphilis is not transmitted through such casual contact as hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same eating utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilets, or touching door knobs.13

Signs and Symptoms

  • Women and men may experience the same signs of Syphilis.
  • During the "primary" stage, a sore may appear on the genitals at or near the place where the bacteria entered the body. Usually firm, round, small, and painless, the sore will develop within 10 to 90 days after contact with the bacteria and will usually last from one to five weeks. A person can easily spread the disease during this stage. If adequate treatment is not received, the infection will progress to the "secondary" stage.14
  • During the "secondary" stage, a rash may appear over the entire body or on the hands and soles of the feet. Other symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and tiredness. Symptoms may appear from 17 days to six-and-a-half months after infection has occurred. They can last up to six months. A person can easily spread the disease during this stage. If adequate treatment is not received, the infection will progress to the "latent" stage.15
  • During the "latent" stage, the untreated bacteria will begin to damage internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. Latent signs may include uncoordinated muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. A person is not usually contagious during this stage.16

Testing

Syphilis is diagnosed through cultures of secretions from the sore or through blood tests.17

Treatment

Syphilis is curable with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. Damage to internal organs during the latent stage is irreversible. All partners should undergo treatment at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth. They should also be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.

CDC'S NATIONAL SYPHILIS ELIMINATION PLAN

As the result of a steady decline in Syphilis rates in the United States, the CDC launched a National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis from the United States in 1998.

The CDC is using this window of opportunity to reduce the total number of primary and secondary syphilis cases to 1,000 or fewer-0.4 cases per 100,000 people-and to increase the number of Syphilis-free counties to 90 percent by 2005.

The National Plan has five strategies: (1) to increase surveillance, (2) to strengthen community involvement and partnerships, (3) to rapidly respond to outbreaks, (4) to improve and increase health promotion, and (5) to expand clinical and laboratory services.

Reference

TRICHOMONAISIS

Trichomoniasis, or "trich," is a genital inflammation caused by the protozoa trichomonas vaginalis.

Trichomoniasis is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person.18

Signs and Symptoms19

  • Signs of infection in women usually appear within five to 28 days after exposure. Men usually show no signs of infection.
  • Women may have a frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor. They may also experience burning during intercourse and urination as well as irritation and itching of the female genital area.
  • Pregnant women may experience a premature rupture of the membranes and a preterm delivery.
  • Men may experience irritation inside the penis, a mild discharge, or a slight burning after urination or ejaculation.

Testing

Trichomoniasis is diagnosed through cultures of vaginal and penile discharge.20

Treatment

Trichomoniasis is curable with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. Both partners must undergo treatment at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth. They should also be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.



See The Truth About STD - Bacterial for additional information.



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