Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) may be a rich source of jokes for sitcom writers and stand-up comics, but there is nothing funny about finding out that you have been infected with a nasty bacteria, virus, or parasite by your most recent paramour.
There really is no reason to be ashamed, however, should you be diagnosed with an STD. After all, there are more than 19 million new STD cases in the US every year, and half of all sexually active young people will contract a sexually transmitted disease by the time they are 25.
In terms of the risk of contracting an STD, some groups are actually more at risk than others, such as men who have sex with men (MSM). Society has also contributed to the spread of these diseases, since changes in societal attitudes towards sex means that men and women are sleeping with more people before they settle down – an average of four for women, and seven for men, according to a survey of adults aged between 20 and 59.
Obviously, multiple partners can increase chances of contracting an STD, but practicing safe sex, especially using condoms, can go a long way towards protecting both you and your partner. Most STDs are easily treated, with a course of antibiotics, and the walk of shame to your local sexual health clinic. But prevention is always better than the cure!
So, before you engage in a one night stand, or finally give the cookie to your new boyfriend, learn what the most common symptoms are for the following scary STDs.
15. Molluscum Contagiosum
Although this isn’t considered a conventional sexually transmitted disease, it is passed by skin-to-skin contact, and so is often accidentally transmitted between adults who have spent some time naked, and in each other’s company. It is a type of virus that results in a very distinctive rash – fluid-filled lumps that can grow up to a few centimeters in size – and is most common in adults who have weak immune systems. While the molluscum contagiosum bumps aren’t sore, they can be very itchy, and scratching them will only increase the chance of further infection. Instead of scratching it, you should see your doctor to have the offending rash treated properly.
14. Nongonococcal Urethritis
Nongonococcal Urethritis or NGU, is a catch-all term which is used to describe any inflammation of the urethra in men that isn’t caused by gonorrhea. It is a diagnosis which tells you that you have a sexually transmitted disease, but requires your doctor to do a bit more testing before he can figure out which one you have. STDs such as chlamydia, mycoplasma, trichomonas vaginalis, and even herpes simplex could all be described as nongonococcal urethritis. Common urethritis symptoms include pain when urinating or a difficulty getting started at the urinal. Gladly, most NGUs can be treated quite easily with a course of antibiotics.
13. Bacterial Vaginosis
This is another condition which isn’t strictly a sexually transmitted disease, although in many cases, has been linked to having sex with a new partner. Bacterial vaginosis diagnosis simply means that the healthy bacteria which normally help to keep your vagina working, have been replaced by different, less helpful organisms. Although a new sexual partner can be one reason behind a BV diagnosis, many women develop the condition for very different reasons. So, don’t automatically assume that your girl has been cheating, when she comes home to tell you she has it. Ask her to visit a hospital instead, where BV can be easily treated with either antibiotic tablets or antifungal creams.
Chancroid is not a common sexually transmitted disease in the US and other western countries, but is found more frequently in the developing world, where it can increase a person’s risk of contracting other STDs, including HIV. In fact, it is so rare in the US that in 2013 there were only ten cases of chancroid recorded in the whole country. Despite this promising report, you need to be careful when you travel abroad, where it is more common.
The disease is caused by the bacteria Haemophilus ducreyi and it produces weeping ulcer-like sores on the genitals of those affected. These sores can grow to be quite large if they are not found and treated on time. Normally, antibiotics should be able to cure this condition, so long as the patient has no other underlying health problems.
Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, whose long-term effects can be very serious, as the disease affects your liver function, and can lead to cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. Despite the development of a hepatitis B vaccine, there are still over a million people in the US with the disease, which sadly has no treatment. This means that hepatitis B patients can only take some medication to help their liver function normally. To ease the effects of this disease, patients also need to make lifestyle changes, such as cutting out alcohol, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Herpes may be better known as the virus which causes cold sores, but it can also be spread sexually, developing as genital herpes. There are two types of herpes – HSV1 is mainly responsible for the cold sores on your face, but can be passed to the genital area through oral sex, while HSV2 is mainly responsible for genital herpes, but can also cause cold sores on your face. Often, you may not know that you have been infected with genital herpes for many months, as the body’s natural defenses can easily hold off this particular virus. Usually, the virus will express itself when you unfortunately fall ill with the flu or another virus.
HIV and AIDS are probably the best known sexually transmitted diseases, and gladly, the number of people contracting the disease in the US is falling every year, at least according to CDC, which reported that the number of new diagnoses fell by 19%, between 2005 and 2014. Better news is that medical research advancements have changed the disease from the death sentence it once was, especially when it first emerged in the 1980s. It is important to note that even when we are experiencing lower infection rates, some groups are more at risk of contracting HIV, including men who have sex with men, and intravenous drug users. To be safe, ensure that your sexual partner has taken a HIV test, and remember to use a condom, which is the best way to prevent infection, if not abstinence.
8. Human Papillomavirus
This particular STD could be the most common in the world, although it is difficult to ascertain this, since many people don’t notice any symptoms. Studies estimate that 80% of sexually active women will have been exposed to HPV by their fifties. Some women may never know that they have been infected with HPV, while others may experience an outbreak of genital warts or have some anomalies show up on their regular cervical screening tests. Worse still, HPV has been linked to cervical cancer, but not all cases develop into cancer, thankfully. While condoms reduce the risk of infection, HPV can easily be spread via skin-to-skin contact.
Scabies is another condition which isn’t necessarily transmitted by sexual contact, but can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, during sex. It is an unpleasant condition, caused by a parasite called Sarcoptes scabei. Symptoms include an incredibly itchy rash, especially in warmer areas of the body, such as armpits and genital area. As much as scabies can be treated with a powerful cream, you will also need to boil wash your bedding, towels and clothes, to prevent re-infection, as the parasite can live on fabric for some time. It is incredibly contagious, and can spread easily, so no need to jump to conclusions should your partner reveal that he is infected.
6. Pubic Lice
Characterized by itching, just like scabies, pubic lice, or crabs, as they are often called colloquially, is another condition which is passed through skin-to-skin contact. The main difference is that given that they can only live in your pubic hair, this infection is a little less innocent than scabies! If you have been infected, the first thing you will notice is the itching. Unlike scabies parasites, which are microscopic in size, lice or eggs are visible to the naked eye. In case you experience these symptoms and notice ‘visitors’ in your nether region, simply buy cream from your pharmacist. If the pubic lice are more persistent, however, seek prescribed treatment.
Trichomoniasis may not be as familiar as some of the names on this list, but it is the most common sexually transmitted disease among young women, and there are 3 million people infected with this particular disease in the US. Although it is easy to treat, too many of those infected wait a long time before seeking medical help, mainly because its symptoms are very similar to more common yeast infections, such as thrush. Once it has been diagnosed, trichomoniasis is treated with same medication used to tackle bacterial vaginosis. It is imperative and prudent to also ensure that male partners are treated, as they may be carrying the infection without any of the nasty symptoms.
4. Mycoplasma Genitalium
Another unfamiliar name on this list, mycoplasma genitalium is on the increase in the US. The difficulty with this particular STD is that it has no symptoms in women, and has been difficult to diagnose. However, don’t let the lack of symptoms disarm you, since this is a potentially serious condition which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. While mycoplasma genitalium can be quite easily treated with antibiotics, many of the most common types of medication, including penicillin, won’t work on this condition because of its unusual biology. Fortunately though, currently, it has become easier to test for, and to treat mycoplasma genitalium, which will hopefully lead to a downturn in the occurrence of this disease.
Syphilis isn’t just a sexually transmitted disease. It is also a huge part of the social history of the US and the western world. Before the discovery of penicillin, it was virtually impossible to treat syphilis, and many women would catch it from their straying husbands, and even pass it onto their children during pregnancy. If left untreated, syphilis can develop into neurosyphilis, which can lead to blindness, personality changes and death – although this is a rare occurrence since the development of more effective antibiotics. Syphilis stories are very scary, including rumors that the well-known serial killer, Jack the Ripper, killed London prostitutes because his neurosyphilis had driven him mad!
Also known as “the clap,” gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is difficult to diagnose, because many people have no symptoms. This is one of the reasons why gonorrhea infection rates remain high – as many as 800,000 new cases in the US each year – despite the fact that it is relatively easy to treat once it has been identified. Antibiotics is the standard treatment, but some strains of the disease are becoming resistant to medication, which is causing sexual health doctors a great deal of concern for future generations. The saddest news about this disease is that if left untreated, a pregnant woman will give birth to a baby filled with pus in the eyes, which could lead to total blindness.
Chlamydia is an incredibly common sexually transmitted disease. It is thought that there could be as many as 4 million new cases of this disease in the US alone each year, but because many people experience no symptoms, it is difficult to know for sure. It is also extremely contagious, and can be spread easily between sexual partners, resulting in some potentially embarrassing phone calls when you are diagnosed. It is therefore vital for you to inform past lovers that they might have been exposed, so that they don’t simply pass on the infection to someone else. Given the severity of the infection, ensure that you are tested and treated as soon as possible, before it does any permanent damage.
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