June 15, 1999
Web posted at: 10:01 AM EDT (1401 GMT)
By Theresa Reed
(WebMD) -- While "sex" and "sexually transmitted disease" (STD) seem like an inevitable duo these days, the specter of infection needn't cast a pall over your life. Becoming informed, taking precautions and receiving prompt medical attention if you believe you've acquired an STD can translate into a healthy sex life. And initiating frank discussions with your partner regarding sexual history helps build your best defense against infection: knowledge. Here's what you need to know to safeguard your health and possibly save your life.
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is transmitted via body fluids -- blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk -- and can be transferred by unprotected vaginal and anal sex or by sharinng contaminated needles or syringes. The riskiness of oral sex without a latex barrier is undetermined, according to Gay Men's Health Crisis, so you should use a condom or a dental dam during all sexual contact. As of December 31, 1998, there were 688,200 AIDS cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New "cocktails" -- powerful mixes of drugs -- are keeping people healthier longer than ever. But there is still no cure for AIDS. If you think you might be infected, get an HIV-antibody blood test at a local health clinic.
Tip: Because of discrimination against those who have tested positive for HIV, many people have the test done anonymously so the results don't become part of their medical records.
Symptoms of AIDS/HIV:
Prolonged bouts of diarrhea
Severe weight loss
Fever or night sweats
Extreme and constant fatigue
Chlamydia is the most frequently reported infectious disease in the country. Although 526,653 cases were reported to the CDC in 1997, an estimated 3 million cases occur annually. Because about 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men don't develop symptoms, many people don't realize they're infected. And up to 40 percent of women with untreated chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain or life-threatening tubal pregnancies. Fortunately, chlamydia is curable with antibiotics.
Tip: Don't resume sexual activity until you've been treated and your symptoms have gone.
Gonorrhea is second only to chlamydia in frequency, with 325,883 cases reported in 1996. Transmitted via unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, gonorrhea is characterized by inflammation of the genitourinary tract, discharge of pus, and pain during urination. Men usually exhibit symptoms within three to five days of exposure, while women can develop them within three weeks. But about 40 percent of men and 80 percent of women infected have no symptoms. Gonorrhea is easily diagnosed with a medical exam and cured with antibiotics.
Tip: You may have to ask for a gonorrhea culture -- it's not always included in routine venereal disease testing.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea:
Yellowish or pus-like discharge
Burning sensation while urinating
Frequent need to urinate
Sometimes no symptoms, especially in women
Syphilis infected more than 68,000 people in 1995. This disease is transmitted through direct contact with syphilis sores on the genitals, anus, rectum and sometimes the mouth and lips. Symptoms appear 10 to 90 days after exposure, and if the disease progresses without treatment it can affect the heart, central nervous system, skin, liver, bones and spleen. Any damage caused by syphilis cannot be reversed, but it responds to penicillin at every stage of infection.
Tip: When getting tested for STDs, ask for a blood test for syphilis, and have the test repeated in six weeks.
Symptoms of Syphilis:
Hard, painless sores on or around the genitals, anus, mouth or fingers, followed six to 12 weeks later by flu-like symptoms
Red or pigmented skin rashes on the palms and soles
This disease is caused by two forms of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 causes oral sores, and HSV-2 typically affects the genitals. Herpes is contracted by direct skin-to-skin contact -- including genital, anal and oral sex or touching an infected area with broken skin. Lesions (painful blisters) appear withhin two weeks of primary exposure and can take two to four weeks to heal. Herpes isn't curable, but outbreaks can be controlled with oral and topical medications. Although the virus goes dormant periodically, most people can expect four or five outbreaks a year, the CDC says.
Tip: There's a risk of infection even when sores aren't present. The best defense is consistent use of condoms during sexual contact.
Symptoms of Herpes:
Discharge and/or painful urination
Itching, tingling or pain in the area where sores then develop
Small blisters that may break and release infectious fluid, and that eventually crust over and dry up
With any STD, there are often no warning signs that your partner is infected. It's crucial to learn how to protect yourself and sexual partners from transmission. For more information call the National STD Hotline at 800-227-8922.
Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
RELATEDS AT :
Sexually Transmitted Diseases Statistics
Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Females
Condoms and the Prevention of AIDS
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Gay Men's Health Crisis
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