WHAT ARE SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STIS OR STDS)?
What are Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs or STDs)??
Used to be called “Sexually Transmitted Diseases” but now “Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs),” these bad guys are just as they sound. They are spread through close contact, usually during sexual encounters, but not always.
Some require body fluid-to-fluid contact and others are skin-to-skin. Don’t believe the rumors, it’s almost impossible to get them from sitting on a toilet seat! Some can be passed from mom to baby during birth.
Some can be cured, and others cannot. Medications exist to help decrease how severe the symptoms are and the trouble they cause you.
If you are diagnosed with one, MAKE SURE YOU TELL YOUR PARTNER(S) SO THEY CAN GET TREATED TOO!! And stay away from close contact with them until you are BOTH treated!! If only one of you gets treated, you can just keep passing it back and forth!
The best way is to PROTECT yourself from getting one in the first place by practicing safe sex – using condoms or other barrier birth control methods, until both of you have gotten tested and have decided to be exclusive with only each other.
Also, get tested regularly, since some STIs, such as HIV, take a while to show up + on a test result.
To help you learn about and remember these bad guys, I present to you… The Villains of STI-Ville!
One of the MOST common, and dangerous because it’s so silent and sneaky – Chlamydia, street name “The Silent Disease.” This STI villain is invisible, because it doesn’t cause symptoms for many people. (If you do have symptoms, it can cause smelly discharge and pain when you pee, and infertility for women).
It’s easily tested for with a urine test or a swab of your cervix during a pelvic exam (using a speculum, as you would when you get a pap smear).
It can be cured with an antibiotic you take by mouth, either Azithromycin or Doxycycline.
You need to make sure you get a TEST OF CURE though, another test done at least 3 weeks after treatment, to make sure it’s gone.
Another common STI, Gonorrhea is a gunner; it doesn’t mess around. It gives you bad symptoms (icky discharge, burning when you pee, infertility), AND it’s evolving so quickly that soon the only cure we have against it will not work anymore!!
We are doing research to try to keep up with it, but it’s estimated that there are already some “Super-Gonorrhea” types that have appeared that are RESISTANT, meaning they cannot be cured with the medicines we have now!!
It is usually treated with a shot of an antibiotic called Ceftriaxone (often given with Azithromycin by mouth, to cover for Chlamydia as well since they are often passed on together).
We recommend a test of cure at least 3 weeks after treatment as well, to make sure it’s gone.
Herpes is PAINFUL – they are blisters/ulcers that leak fluid and then crust over. They can infect any part of your body that is moist (mucous membrane), including genitals, mouth, nose, and even eyes! They are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). There are 2 types of HSV – 1 is commonly known as “Oral Herpes” (causing “Cold Sores” around the mouth), and type 2 is “Genital Herpes.”
HOWEVER, THIS IS A MISNOMER – BOTH CAN INFECT ANYWHERE!! They are essentially the same virus, sharing 85% genetic material, and look alike. Your doctor can test for them using a blood draw or a swab of the fluid from an ulcer.
Herpes can affect the eye, and even spread to the brain, which is life-threatening.
It can be passed from mother to baby, which is why doctors check you thoroughly before deciding if it’s safe to have your baby naturally (vaginally). Otherwise, they will do a C-Section. They have to use a speculum to check inside because you can get ulcers even on your cervix!
Most people are carriers of the virus, and even when infected, never know that they have it because they have no or very mild symptoms.
Once you have Herpes, you have it for life, and can have breakouts at any time, usually caused by stress. You may feel a tingling or burning sensation before the ulcers even appear. You also may have a breakout without ulcers, meaning the virus sheds some contagious cells so you can pass it on to someone else without even knowing!
It’s one of the most annoying STIs that patients report. There’s no cure, but there are meds (Acyclovir and Valcyclovir) that can control the symptoms – make the breakouts go away faster, or even prevent them if you’re having too many breakouts per year.
Some people confuse Herpe’s “Cold Sores” with “Canker Sores,” which are not caused at all by a virus.
Don’t worry about telling the difference by yourself, just make an appointment to see your doctor ASAP!
Oh remember him?? HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) can be spread by even skin to skin contact. It causes warts and abnormal pap smears, eventually leading to CANCER!!
You often don’t know you have it. There is no cure for it, only time and your body’s natural immune system, but there’s no guarantee that you can ever get rid of it. There are many many types of HPV, and people often get infected more than once in their lives.
I wrote entire other posts about it. Click here for more info on HPV, and here to learn about how it causes your cervix’s cells to become abnormal, leading to cancer!!
DON’T CONFUSE WITH HPV….. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a whole other beast.
HIV is the “Slime,” that traps and makes people vulnerable to other villains/infections. HIV by itself cannot kill you. It’s by helping/aiding other invading villains that it gets you!
Even the COMMON COLD can be DEADLY to patients with HIV!!
HIV attacks your immune system. People who are infected with HIV develop AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome), and their immune systems are very weak. They are more likely to develop cancer, and need more frequent cancer checks, such as pap smears.
There are many medications out there to help your AIDS not be as severe, but we have NOT discovered a way to cure it!! These meds have a LOT of side effects. You need regular blood tests to check on your immune system, and also check on the effects of the meds on your body, such as your liver.
There are also meds that can be used to try to PREVENT the spread of HIV, either BEFORE or AFTER exposure. If you have a partner with HIV, or engage in risky behaviors, ask your doctor about taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). If you think you’ve been exposed, such as having been with a high-risk partner, or you were accidentally stuck with a needle, you can take Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). They are not 100%, but they reduce your chances of getting it.
This STI is the brawn of the bunch. So pumped up on steroids and proud of showing off his muscles!
The bacteria behind Chancroid is called Haemophilus ducreyi, and it causes very painFUL sores on your genitals, and sometimes swelling of your lymph nodes nearby.
It’s treatable with several antibiotics, including Azithromycin, Ceftriaxone (a shot), Ciprofloxacin, and Erythromycin.
I don’t know who named everything, but it’s pretty confusing that a ChancROID sore is so similar in name to a sore caused by the next villain below, Syphilis (this sore is called a “Chancre“).
Don’t worry about learning this! Just tell your doctor if it HURTS or not, and (s)he can take a look and figure out the rest…
If there’s a brawn, then there’s also a brain of the bunch, right? Sift-philis is a master mind-reader and controller.
Syphilis starts off like many other STIs – with sores on your genitals. This is stage 1, called “Primary Syphilis.” Beware that they are often painLESS for some reason! (vs. Chancroid’s sores which are painFUL). The sores go away on their own after 3-6 weeks, even if you don’t get treatment.
But left untreated, it can get much, much worse – the 2nd (“Secondary”) stage of syphilis causes rashes, fevers, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, bodyaches, and fatigue. These also go away on their own eventually.
Some people are lucky in that they now remain in the Latent stage, meaning the bacteria is in your body, but you don’t have any symptoms. You can still spread the infection to anyone else.
But some people enter the dreaded 3rd and final (“Tertiary”) stage of Syphilis, sometimes known as “NeuroSyphilis” because it affects your brain. Now Sift-philis has gotten into your mind! It can affect the way you walk, think, talk… You can get numbness, dementia, seizures, problems controlling muscle movements, go blind, or even die!!
Syphilis CAN be cured with an antibiotic called Penicillin, but some brain damage can be irreversible.
So please don’t wait to see a doctor!! Don’t give him a chance to get that far!!
I didn’t have to stretch far for this one. Street name was “Crabs” already.
Pubic lice are little parasites that look like mini crabs that attach to your skin and coarse hair. They can live in not only pubic hair, but eyelashes, eyebrows, chest hair, armpits, mustaches, and beards! Your head hair is usually safe since head lice are a different type.
They feed off your blood, causing itching and possible dark spots from the bites.
They can be spread from close contact, not just sex, and from infected towels, clothes, or beds.
They’re annoying, but not life-threatening, and quite treatable even with over-the-counter creams/gels/shampoos (usually containing permethrin). Stronger meds are available by prescription.
After treatment, you may need a tiny comb to get the lice and eggs out. You should be able to see them, but use a magnifying glass if you need to.
Wash everything you can with hot water and dry for at least 20 minutes, and store the rest in black trash bags for at least 2 weeks to make sure the lice and eggs all die.
If you still see any live ones after 9-10 days, you’ll need to treat again.
Don’t feel bad or gross, anyone, even the cleanest, most hygienic people, can get crabs!
Last but not least, this villain can multiply and clone himself! There are 5 main types of Hepatitis viruses, which all affect your liver.
Hepatitis B, C, and D are more severe and are spread through sexual contact or sharing needles, whereas A and E are usually passed through contaminated food or water.
The treatments are different for each type. Hep A and E can go away on their own, but B, C, and D need heavy-duty medications with lots of side effects.
Symptoms include fevers, fatigue, belly pain, yellow skin and eyes, bodyaches, throwing up, weight loss, dark-colored pee, and light-colored poop. They can all lead to scarring, cancer, and FAILURE of your liver, meaning you will need to wait for a liver transplant, and there is already a shortage of organ donors and a long waitlist.
WE HAVE VACCINES TO PREVENT HEPATITIS A AND B!! Hep D is a piggyback off of Hep B and cannot exist without Hep B, so the Hep B vaccine protects against Hep D too!!
In fact, Hep B is the one and only vaccine we give to newborn infants! It’s just THAT important!! (You’ll need more boosters at later ages, so make sure you get ALL the shots in a series!)
I just realized I don’t have Trichomonas here – I will include it in a future post on abnormal vaginal discharge.
Hope you enjoyed meeting these STI Villains! Remember, each of us is a superhero, and we have the power to fight these guys, together!!
Practice safe sex (always use a condom or other barrier birth control method, get tested regularly, and keep good communication with your partner(s).
You can even get treatment FOR your partner, even if they don’t have insurance or a medical record in your office!! It can be prescribed under your name. Ask your doctor more about “Expedited Partner Therapy”!!
It’s up to all of us to make this world a safer place, especially with Super-Gonorrhea on the loose!!