Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Introduction


In This Section

  • The most common sexually transmitted diseases
  • Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment
  • How to limit the risk for developing an STD
  • What to do if you think you have an STD

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), formerly referred to as “venereal diseases,” are among the most common infectious diseases in the world. Amazingly, an estimated 333 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted diseases occur each year among adults. The United States has the highest rate of STDs in the industrialized world, exceeding other nations by 50 to 100 times.

These diseases exert a high emotional toll on afflicted individuals, as well as an economic burden on our healthcare system. More than 20 STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, genital herpes, and viral hepatitis have now been identified as affecting men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels.

Our Current Situation

There are an estimated 15.3 million new cases of STDs in the United States each year, 3 million of which occur in people between the ages of 13 and 19. Nearly two thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than 25! The incidence of STDs is rising partly because people have become sexually active earlier, with more frequent sex partners. Many STDs cause no symptoms, and those that do may be confused with other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact. An infected person, whether he or she has symptoms or not, may transmit an STD to a sex partner. For this reason, periodic screening is recommended for individuals with multiple sex partners.

STDs tend to be more severe for women than for men. In some cases, STDs may spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, a major cause of both infertility and ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo grows in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus). STDs in women are also associated with some cervical cancer. STDs can be passed from a mother to baby before, during, or immediately after birth.

Disease Diction

A sexually transmitted disease is an infectious disease that is acquired through some type of sexual contact. Once acquired, it can be passed on to other sexual partners.

The good news is, however, that when diagnosed and treated early, many STDs can be managed effectively or cured.

Reducing the Chance of Infection

The only completely effective means of protection against STD infection is to abstain from sexual intercourse. For most of the sexually active world, this is an impractical solution.

Antigen Alert

Syphilis, herpes simplex virus, chancroid, and other infections that cause genital or rectal ulcers are associated with HIV infection. Open sores in the genital area are believed to increase the risk for acquiring HIV because they provide an easy entryway for the virus.

So for those people engaging in intercourse, the best way to minimize risk is to …

  • Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.
  • Use barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms.
  • Avoid anal intercourse.
  • Delay having sexual relations as long as possible, as young people tend to be more susceptible to infections.
  • Keep the total number of sex partners at a minimum.
  • Have regular checkups even in the absence of STD symptoms.

If an STD infection is suspected, a doctor should be consulted. Information is readily available from local health departments, as well as from STD and family planning clinics.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dangerous Diseases and Epidemics © 2002 by David Perlin, Ph.D., and Ann Cohen. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.