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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections passed from one person to another during sexual contact. There are numerous sexually transmitted diseases, most of which cannot be diagnosed with certainty without specialized testing. The only STD that rarely needs any special testing to diagnose is HPV which causes genital warts (also called condyloma). The other common STD’s (Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, HIV) usually require diagnostic testing that is not readily available in physician offices. For these, the patient needs to be seen at their local county Public Health Department.


Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 strains of HPV that can infect the genital areas of males and females. HPV can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. Very rarely a mother with HPV infection can transmit the virus to her infant during delivery.

Symptoms of HPV

Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems. Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years. However, certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. High-risk or oncogenic HPV strains can cause cancer. There are roughly a dozen high-risk strains that have been identified that affect approximately 5% of all cancer patients.

HPV and Cancer Risks

High-risk or oncogenic HPV strains, mostly commonly types 16 and 18, can lead to cancer. These strains can cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers. HPV strains cause normal cells to turn into abnormal cells and when the body can’t fight them off it can lead to cancer. Early stages of cervical cancer often don’t cause signs or symptoms, therefore is it is important for women to have regular Pap tests to detect precancerous changes in the cervix.

HPV Vaccines

There is a vaccine called Gardasil that protects against some strains of HPV that cause warts or lead to cancer. Another vaccine called Cervarix protects against some strains that lead to cancer, but not warts. It is recommended for boy and girls to get the vaccine between the ages 12-26. It is most effective if given before becoming sexually active.

Treating HPV

There is currently no cure or treatment for HPV. Most inflections are fought off by the body’s immune system and go away on their own. Abnormal cells can be removed by biopsy to help decrease the chance of abnormal cells reproducing. Removing abnormal cells can be treated through colposcopy, cryotherapy and LEEP treatments.

Medications can be used to eliminate warts that are a side effect of some strains of HPV. Medication can be applied directly to the lesion and usually goes away after several applications. If medications don’t work, warts may be physically removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen, electrocautery or laser surgery.

If you suspect you may have Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis, you need to seek care at your local county public health department

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Most patients have no or only minimal signs or symptoms from HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. Genital herpes is a fairly common and highly contagious STD affecting about 16.2% of people ages 12 to 49 years old in the United States.

HSV is spread from person to person during sexual contact. There is a higher probability of spreading HSV when a person has an outbreak, but you can still spread it between outbreaks as well.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

Genital Herpes typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters break, leaving tender ulcers (sores) that may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first. The second outbreak is usually less severe and shorter. Other symptoms may include decreased appetite, fever, general sick feeling, swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin during an outbreak, muscle aches in lower back, buttocks, thighs or knees.

Although the infection can stay in the body indefinitely, the number of outbreaks tends to decrease over a period of years. Various factors can trigger future outbreaks which include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Illness
  • Surgery
  • Menstruation

Tests for Genital Herpes

A doctor can usually diagnose genital herpes based on a physical exam and laboratory tests. Your doctor can order a DNA test, blood test or viral culture to determine if you have genital herpes.

Genital Herpes Treatment and Prevention

There is no cure for genital herpes but medication can help relieve discomfort. Medications may help sores heal sooner, lessen the severity and length of symptoms with breakouts, reduce the recurrence of breakouts and minimize the chance of transmitting the disease to others. Your doctor might recommend taking medication during the breakouts or every day.

The only way to 100% prevent genital herpes is to abstain from sexual activity. The lesions are highly contagious when present, so abstain from sexual activities during the breakouts. Other ways to avoid getting an STD include using condoms correctly.

If you suspect you may have Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis, you need to seek care at your local county public health department


Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. Like some other STDs, a patient might not know they have chlamydia because some people never develop symptoms. Chlamydia can affect both men and woman and isn’t difficult to treat once you know you have it, however untreated it can cause more serious health problems.

Chlamydia and Infertility

If women go untreated the infection can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This happens in about 10 to 15 percent of women with untreated chlamydia. The inflection can also cause fallopian tube infection without any symptoms. PID and “silent” infection in the upper genital tract can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus and surrounding tissues. This damage can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility and potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).

All pregnant women should have a screening test for chlamydia.

Chlamydia Symptoms

Often there are no early signs of chlamydia. Symptoms will usually occur one to three weeks after the patient has been exposed to the STD. Sometimes symptoms are mild enough that a patient might not recognize them. Symptoms of infection may include:

  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal or penis discharge
  • Painful sexual intercourse in woman
  • Testicular pain in men

If you show any signs or learn that a sexual partner has chlamydia you should contact your doctor. If your partner has the infection, your doctor will give you antibiotics even if you do not show signs. A swab or urine test can be used to determine if you have chlamydia.

Chlamydia Treatment and Prevention

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. In most cases the infection clears up within one to two weeks. Patients should abstain from sex during this time. Your sexual partner should also receive treatment even if he or she does not show symptoms.

If you suspect you may have Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis, you need to seek care at your local county public health department


Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by Neisseria Gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can grow and multiply easily in the warm, moist areas. Gonorrhea can infect both females and males and most often affects the urethra, rectum or throat. While gonorrhea is most commonly spread through sexual intercourse, babies can be infected during childbirth.

Signs and Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Symptoms of gonorrhea most commonly appear in the genital area, but can also affect other parts of the body. Symptoms vary slightly from males to females. Male symptoms include painful urination, pus-like discharge and pain or swelling in one testicle. Woman may experience increased vaginal discharge, painful urination, abdominal or pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding between periods and after vaginal intercourse.

Symptoms of gonorrhea on other places on the body

Gonorrhea can affect other parts of the body including the rectum, eyes, throat and joints. Patients may experience anal itching, push-like discharge from the rectum, bright red bleeding or strain during bowel movements. Symptoms in a patient’s eye will cause pain, sensitivity to light or pus-like discharge. If the disease reaches a patients throat will become sore and have swollen lymph nodes. Joints can become warm, red, swollen or extremely painful when affected with gonorrhea.

You should make an appointment with your doctor if you experience a burning sensation when you urinate or a pus-like discharge. You should also make an appointment if your sexual partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhea.

Treatments for Gonorrhea

Your doctor will use a urine test or swab of the affected area to determine if the gonorrhea bacterium is present in your body. Once a doctor determines you have gonorrhea, an antibiotic is used to treat the disease. It is recommended your partner be tested and treated even if he or she doesn’t show symptoms. Even if you have been treated, you can be reinfected by an untreated partner.

Untreated Gonorrhea can lead to complications

If gonorrhea goes untreated, the following complications could occur:

  • Infertility in men and women
  • Infection can spread to joints and other areas in the body
  • Increase the risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Complications to unborn babies including blindness, sores on the scalp or infections
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
If you suspect you may have Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis, you need to seek care at your local county public health department


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It has often been called “the great imitator” because so many of the signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases. The disease often starts as a painless sore typically on the a patients genitals, rectum or mouth. Syphilis can lie dormant in your body for decades before being active again after initial infection.

Symptoms and Signs of Syphilis

Syphilis develops in stages and symptoms can overlap and vary with each stage. A patient might also be infected and not notice symptoms for years. The following are the stages of syphilis and the symptoms that come with each stage.

Primary Syphilis and Secondary Syphilis

The first symptom of syphilis is a small sore that appears at the site where the bacteria entered your body. Most people only develop one sore, but several can appear. The sore usually appears three weeks after infect and most people don’t notice it because it is painless and hidden in the vagina or rectum. The sore will heal on its own within six weeks.

A few weeks after the sore has healed, a rash may develop on your core, but will eventually cover your entire body developing secondary syphilis. The rash usually is not itchy and may cause sores on the mouth and genitals. Other symptoms may include muscle aches, fever, swollen lymph nodes and a sore throat. These symptoms can come and go for up to one year

Latent Syphilis and Tertiary Syphilis

Patients who go untreated develop into the latent, or hidden, stage. This stage can last for years and symptoms may never return or may progress into the tertiary stage. Roughly 15-30% of people who aren’t treated for syphilis will develop the tertiary stage. In the late stages syphilis may damage your brain, nerves, eyes, blood vessels, liver, heart, bones and joints. These problems can occur years after the initial, untreated infection.

Congenital Syphilis

Mothers who are infected with syphilis can infect the baby through the placenta or during birth. Most babies with congenital syphilis display no signs or display a rash on the palms of their hands and feet. If untreated later symptoms may include deafness, teeth deformities or a saddle nose.

Syphilis Treatments

Syphilis can be diagnosed by testing blood, fluid from sores or cerebral spinal fluid. When diagnosed and treated in the early stages, syphilis is easy to cure. The preferred treatment is antibiotics that kill the organism that causes syphilis. If you have been infected with syphilis for more than a year, additional doses of antibiotics may be necessary to kill the disease. If you are treated for syphilis during pregnancy, your child should also receive treatment after birth.

You may experience slight side effects the first day of treatment including fever, chills, nausea, achy pain and headaches. These side effects shouldn’t last longer than a day.

Treatment Follow-up

After being treated for syphilis you may be asked to have blood tests to make sure your body is responding to treatments. You should avoid sexual contact until the treatment is completed and blood tests confirm the infection is gone.

If you suspect you may have Genital Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis, you need to seek care at your local county public health department
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