It’s time for Valentine’s Day. Most people think of flowers, candy, cards, and such. As an emergency physician, I think of all the sexually transmitted diseases, STDs that will come from the unprotected sex people will be having on this day where no one wants to be alone. As a deterrent to unsafe sex, I just wanted readers to think about the different STDs out there.
Sexually transmitted diseases are contracted by having sex with an unprotected partner. Some can be spread through body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, penile fluids, saliva, blood) while others are spread by touching infected areas. You can contract STDs during oral sex, vaginal sex, penile sex, or anal sex. You are at higher risk of contracting an STD if you have more than one partner, if your partner has sex with other people, if you are an IV drug user and share needles with other people, or if you do not use some form of barrier contraception, such as condoms.
Often sexually transmitted diseases are passed because the infected person is unaware they have an STD. It is common to have a disease and have no symptoms, especially in men, therefore they are passing the disease along unknowingly. Symptoms of STDs include, but are not limited to, discharge from the genitalia (rectum, vagina, anus), burning or pain with urination, sores around the mouth or genitalia, rash to the palms or soles, enlarged glands, sore throat from oral sex, genital itching and/or genital pain. There are multiple STDs and I could write a book on them alone, but I will just highlight important information.
This is a bacteria passed through body fluids. It can cause vaginal or penile discharge, burning urination, anal irritation, or pelvic pain. It can affect internal organs and cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) in females if it spreads to the fallopian tubes. It can be passed unknowingly and it is often associated with gonorrhea, which I will discuss next. This can be treated and cured with antibiotics.
This is also a bacteria passed through body fluids. It can also cause vaginal or penile discharge, pelvic pain, anal irritation, and painful urination. It can also cause swollen testicles. This disease can also progress to PID and this could result in infertility. This disease, as stated above, can be transmitted along with chlamydia. This disease can also be treated and cured with antibiotics.
3. Hepatitis C
This one is not commonly discussed. However, it is passed through sexual contact and through IV drug use because it goes into the blood stream. This disease is caused by a virus. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes, and it causes liver disease which progresses to cirrhosis. There is a smaller chance of it being transmitted through sex and it is more common to be passed through IV drug use. There is no cure, but symptoms can be treated with anti-viral medications.
This is also caused by a virus. Symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, and fevers with initial outbreaks. During outbreaks, small blisters form and burst, which causes painful ulcers. This is not curable and this disease results in recurrent outbreaks. Some people have few and some have many. Stress can increase the number of outbreaks. The disease is most common when there are lesions on the genitalia and the partner becomes exposed to those skin lesions, but it can be passed along without lesions. Anti-viral medications treat the symptoms, but there is no cure.
5. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV):
This is a virus that spreads through skin contact. Some types cause genital warts, which vary in appearance. Some look like cauliflower, some are flat, and some are bumpy. This disease puts women at risk for cervical cancer. This disease is in men and women, but it typically causes no delayed complications in men and they are carriers of the virus. This disease is like herpes because it can be passed with or without skin lesions being visible. There is no cure, but skin lesions can be treated. There is also a vaccine for it, in the attempt to prevent cervical cancer.
6. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):
This is a deadly disease transmitted through semen, vaginal fluid, and blood. This is a virus and it can progress to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There can be no symptoms initially for years after transmission. Symptoms include swollen glands, fever, night sweats, diarrhea, and skin rash. There is no cure, but there are antiviral medications to help slow the progression of the disease to AIDS and can result in a longer life expectancy. Death does not result because of the virus itself but because the virus your body more susceptible to other infections, including pneumonia and the secondary infections actually cause death.
This disease is caused by a bacteria, although it is less common presently. It has 4 stages and can result eventually in heart and brain damage. The first stage, or primary syphilis typically causes a painless sore on the genitals that lasts 3-6 weeks. Secondary syphilis results in a rash and/or flu-like symptoms. There is a latent stage which can last years in which there are no symptoms. The final stage is tertiary syphilis which can cause neurological problems such as paralysis, organ damage including the heart, blindness, and finally death. This can be treated with antibiotics.
Of note, these diseases can be spread to fetuses during childbirth and some can cause problems with fetal development during pregnancy. That is why it is important for females to get prenatal care to determine appropriate treatments.
So, to wrap this all up, that is exactly what you should do. Use condoms and wrap it up. There are other forms of barrier contraceptives such as female condoms, diaphragms, and the list goes on. This is not the topic for this month, so we won’t get into that, but the take-home message is, use something. Just because people look disease free does not mean that they are. It is important to get screened for sexually transmitted diseases with every partner and even with the same partner. I hate to point out the obvious, but monogamy is dying out. If you do not have a primary care practitioner, health departments typically do free or inexpensive screening. Practice safe sex and get tested.
Disclaimer: Although I am a qualified emergency physician, the information on this site is not meant in lieu of the advice of your own primary care provider. Lovelyespirit, nor I are responsible for any damage, injury, death, or disease process that may arise as a result of the information obtained from this article. Do not use any information obtained here as a way to diagnose or treat yourself. This information is meant to help the general public be more aware of medical processes and to try and promote overall better health. I am also not representing the hospital system I work for, nor the emergency medicine group for which I am practicing.