Sexually transmitted disease

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 4, 2016
StartDiseasesSexually transmitted disease

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is spread through sexual contact. In the United States alone, there are more than 20 million new sexually transmitted infections each year. Some of the most commonly reported STDs are gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, and trichomoniasis.


Definition & Facts

An STD can either be a bacterial infection or a viral infection. The viruses and bacteria that cause STD's are often located within the fluids of the body. They can be found in the vaginal discharge, blood, semen, and even the saliva. Bacterial versions, like gonorrhea, can be cleared up with the use of antibiotic medications. Viral infections, like herpes, stay within the body and often flare up at certain times. Those who have viral infections will require treatment during a flare-up and possibly throughout their lives.

Symptoms & Complaints

Depending on the type of STD a person has, the symptoms can vary greatly. Common symptoms involve the organs of the male reproductive system and female reproductive system, respectively. These symptoms include sores, burning, a strong odor, or discharge.

Though the most common issues present in the genitalia, signs can appear in other parts of the body. The sores that come along with syphilis can be found in the vagina, penis, the anus, and even in the mouth. Genital herpes or herpes simplex is also known to affect the mouth, and can cause a person to have swollen gums, bad breath, and even dehydration.

Some STDs produce very subtle symptoms. Some may not even know they are infected until the infection is at a more serious level, a sexual partner displays symptoms or they have a routine test. Gonorrhea is one STD that doesn't have many symptoms. However, more than 70,000 people are diagnosed each year. It's not until the hallmark sign of the yellowish discharge appears from the genitals that a person seeks help.

Though most STDs can be treated successfully, some can cause irreversible organ damage and even death. 1.25 million Americans have hepatitis B and it causes damage to the liver. HIV is not the death sentence it once was, but many people die of AIDS every year.


Sexually transmitted diseases are caused by sexual contact with a partner who is infected. The more partners a person has increases the odds of getting an STD. Unprotected sex is the leading cause of the spread of STDs. When used correctly, a condom can be 97 percent effective in the prevention of many STDs.

Since the infectious bacteria and viruses are found in the bodily fluids, oral sex can cause the spread of infections from one person to another. STD's can be transmitted through any sexual contact that involves the sharing of fluids. Anal intercourse has greater risks because there is often tearing of the anal cavity tissues during intercourse. These tears allow viruses and bacteria to easily flow from one person to another.

Diagnosis & Tests

There are many STDs that don't require any tests at all to determine their presence. A trained physician will be able to identify pubic lice, herpes sores and other conditions by their hallmark signs. Routine blood tests can detect viruses that cause hepatitis A, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. The type of testing greatly depends on the type of STD the doctor thinks a person has based on the patient's recounting of symptoms and medical history. The Western blot is considered the most effective test for AIDS or HIV.

The doctor will examine the genitals and look for signs of an infection. For a woman, a pelvic examination is a great starting point. To pinpoint the exact disease, laboratory analysis of cells, tissues, and or discharge samples are required. It can take a day or a couple weeks to get definitive test results. There are testing kits that can be used at home and the results given to a doctor for treatment.

Treatment & Therapy

Once diagnosis has occurred, sex partners of the diagnosed should be informed and also treated whether they show symptoms or not. If treatment begins early enough, a bacterial STD can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Viral infections like genital herpes, genital warts, and hepatitis are not curable. Warts can be frozen or surgically removed. There are also drugs available to help hepatitis, but they are not able to cure the condition. AIDS and HIV are not curable, but the use of antiretroviral therapy is common.

Trichomoniasis is an STD caused by a protozoan parasite. To treat this condition, a physician will use metronidazole. The success rate is around 90 percent.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

When it comes to an STD, prevention is the key. There are numerous ways to stop the spread of these viral and bacterial infections. Practicing safe sex is vital which includes the use of condoms and other barriers. A person who is sexually active needs to be tested periodically for STDs. It is also important to receive vaccines when available such as the HPV vaccine, hepatitis A vaccine, and hepatitis B vaccine.