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Discussing Diseases

Posted by TooTimid Staff to Sexual Health
One of the most common concerns expressed on our boards of a medical nature is how to tell if you have an STD. While this is not always easy to answer – and TooTimid ALWAYS suggests that you see your doctor or OBGYN if you suspect that you have an STD – there are some basics that can be discussed to help you discern if you may have more going on than a yeast infection. STDs can be mild and cause little or no discomfort - or, in the extreme cases, can be life-threatening. Either way, STDs are PREVENTABLE – and it is YOUR responsibility to try to prevent contraction and spread of STDs! First, let us do a basic review of how you may obtain a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If you are having sex – oral, anal or vaginal – and not taking precautions (condoms or dental dams) then you can contract a STD from a partner who already has one. This means, if you are sexually active – PROTECT YOURSELF from both pregnancy and STDs. For this means CONDOMS and DENTAL DAMS! There are also other ways to contract some of the STDs – which will be discussed later. If you take these precautions the chances of you getting an STD are much, much, much lower – but not completely eliminated. Why? Well, condoms break, people forget, and many people mistakenly think that oral sex won’t put you at risk and it does. There is also the easiest way – KNOW YOUR PARTNER! IF you do not know or trust your partner, you may be at great risk!

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CHLAMYDIA: Millions of people (men and women) contract this bacterial infection that affects urinary and reproductive organs in both men and women. This disease can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women or Non-Gonoccal-Urethritis in men and can cause sterility in both sexes. Chlamydia is spread through sexual contact or bodily fluids and can also be transmitted through hand to eye contact. Approximately 75% of all Chlamydia infections in women, and 25% of those in men, show no symptoms. You can carry and pass Chlamydia and never even know that you have it. When symptoms manifest themselves there are a multitude of ambiguous signs. Due to this fact, it is imperative that you have a medical examination and the proper laboratory tests to confirm or deny that you have Chlamydia. Women experience itching or burning in the vaginal region, greenish vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain or discomfort. Men experience painful urination, whitish discharge from the penis or testicular pain. The test for Chlamydia is often given during a yearly pap smear and is always given during pregnancy tests because left untreated Chlamydia can pass on to a child through birth causing eye infections or pneumonia. Treatment for Chlamydia involves antibiotic therapy and can be completely cured. If you know you have Chlamydia, avoid sexual contact until your infection has cleared.

GONORRHEA: This disease is caused by an infection from gonococcus bacteria – which can only live in dark, moist places. This makes the cervix, penis, throat or anal canal prime areas for bacterial growth. In women, this disease can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID). In men, chronic prostate infections with painful urination and / or painful ejaculation can occur. Both men and women can become sterile if left untreated, and a woman CAN pass this on during childbirth to her children. The notable thing about this disease is while it is spread through sexual intercourse, it can also be spread by heaving petting (unclothed) if the genitals are involved in the petting. Therefore, you can contract Gonorrhea through “fingering,” “handjobs” or oral sex. There is an incubation period of approximately 2-9 days when there will be no symptoms but you CAN pass the disease on during this period. Symptoms include frequent, painful burning urination and a whitish, greenish or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina. In men the opening of the penis, or a portion of the penis head, may be red and sore. In both men and women a sore throat, swollen glands (lymph nodes) or a discharge from the anus or urethra can manifest as well. In some cases, no symptoms are present. Treatment involves antibiotic therapy – and in some cases, there are antibiotic resistant strains which spread more quickly and are harder to cure. Oftentimes, Chlamydia is also present so it is imperative that treatment for both be given.

HERPES: One of the most talked about STDs, Herpes manifests itself with blister-like sores that will appear on and IN the penis, vagina and / or the rectal opening. These blisters can also appear around the mouth, throat or lips. While these sores do go away, they can return. Women can pass herpes onto their unborn children – and in fact, Herpes is one of the most common STDs found in newborns. There is a link between cervical cancer and Herpes – therefore, more pap smears are recommended for those women who are infected. Caused by a virus, HERPES CAN NOT BE CURED – but with medical treatment, the flare-ups can be managed. When the blisters are present the person is most contagious – but Herpes can also be spread before sores form or while they are healing. The virus spreads through contact between the sores and the other person’s body – and can also be spread through cuts in the skin. It can also be spread by YOURSELF by touching a sore and then touching, say, your eye or mouth. Incubation period is 2-10 days, in which painful blisters MAY appear. Other symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, aching muscles, fever and headache. The blisters will “pop” and leave a painful sore. Stress can cause outbreaks in the infected person and subsequent outbreaks are less painful than the initial and heal faster. Rarely, no symptoms appear. As above stated, Herpes can NOT be cured. However, with prescription medicines and ointments, Herpes breakouts can be managed and the pain controlled. It is most important that persons with Herpes avoid sexual contact during an outbreak and ALWAYS use condoms to avoid spreading.

SYPHILIS: Caused by spiral shaped bacteria called “spirochetes,” Syphilis enters the bloodstream and vital organs. Syphilis can cause open sores, and these sores make it easier for the HIV virus or other STDs to enter the body. This disease can be spread from mother to child during childbirth and pregnancy. Transmission is primarily through sexual contact where the spirochetes are passed between partners. In some cases, the bacteria can be transmitted through an open cut on the skin of their partner. Incubation is 10-90 days and Syphilis then manifests itself in stages. In the first stage, hard, red, painless sores appear anywhere that contact has occurred (penis, vagina, cervix, tongue, anal opening. These sores will disappear within 2-6 weeks but the disease is still spreading inside the body. Medicinal treatment can help with stage one sores. In stage two, occurring months later, a rash, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, weight loss, headache and / or hair loss may occur. Again, these symptoms may disappear within weeks, only to return again later. Finally, if left untreated, Syphilis will attack the heart can cause paralysis, dementia, blindness and in some cases, death! Syphilis can be cured – if detected – so if you think you have Syphilis, go to your doctor immediately for a screening test! Large doses of antibiotics (most likely penicillin) will be given for an indeterminate amount of time until the patient is cured. Without treatment, Syphilis with cycle through the stages and eventually cause irreparable damage.

GENITAL WARTS: Not to be confused with the blisters in Syphilis or Herpes, Genital Warts are caused by the viral infection Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – which you may be familiar with due to the new “shot” available to protect women from contracting HPV. These warts appear on the penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, in or around the rectal opening or in the throat. Warts can be small, large, flat or textured. They spread rapidly, so early treatment is essential. Transmission is through vaginal, oral or anal sex with a partner who has HPV. Incubation period can be short or long, with the warts appearing days, months or even years later. Genital warts are known as the “silent” epidemic because there are no symptoms except the warts, which can appear 1-3 months after contact. These bumps may be painless, or may itch. They can be very tiny – almost unnoticeable – and spread fast. The additional risk of HPV is that women who contract it have an HIGH risk of developing cervical cancer. There is also a greater risk for vulvar cancer, penile cancer or rectal cancer for those whom have had an HPV infection, even if it has been treated. Babies born with HPV can develop warts in their throats, causing choking, failure to eat and death. There is no cure for HPV, but the warts can be treated by ointment or by removal (freeze or laser therapy). Pregnant women with HPV must be treated carefully to avoid contaminating their children. Treatments for other kinds of warts will NOT help treat genital warts!

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CHANCROID: A less heard of STD that is actually making a “comeback” due to resurgence in this particular bacterial strain. This bacterial infection manifests with sores and swelling – usually but not always in the genital regions – as well as elsewhere on the body. These sores appear as bright red blisters or “pimples” with ragged edges. Chancroid can be spread even when these sores are not present. Transmission can be direct through sexual contact or indirect through skin to skin contact with someone with the infected sores. Symptoms are few and far between, but basically manifest in these open, pus-oozing sores. These sores often will not go away without treatment. Also, these open sores make it much easier to contract other STDs including HIV. These sores spread further in “un-hygienic” areas – so bathe, shower and clean yourself daily – especially if you have sores already. This disease may be cured with the proper antibiotic treatment – and the sores also can be treated during an outbreak. Condoms can help to prevent Chancroid, but because skin-to-skin contact also puts you at risk, it is more important to know your partner and to be observant of your partner’s skin (i.e. look for open sores!)

TRICHOMONIASES: One of the least known STDs, this disease is caused by tiny parasites that like to live in dark, moist places (such as the vaginal or rectal areas.) This infection thrives in the vagina or urethral openings (men and women). While this STD is primarily spread through sexual contact, it can also be spread by using a damp washcloth, towel or bathing suit that has the parasites living on it. These parasites can live outside of the body for many hours. This infection can be inside your body for years with or without symptoms. Symptoms for women include a greenish-yellow vaginal discharge with foul odor, frequent and painful urination, inflammation of the genitals and pain in the lower abdomen. Symptoms for men are similar colored discharge from the penis, mild to moderate penile discomfort. This disease can be treated – but you must obtain the proper medicinal treatment. There is a particular anti-parasitic that can be prescribed. Pregnant women must obtain special treatment as the drugs used for this are not safe during pregnancy. Condoms can be a great preventative for this, but the parasites can still be shared through the above mentioned manners. Remember, parasites thrive in moist, damp and unclean spaces.

CRABS AND SCABIES: Crabs and Scabies are two different types of tiny bugs that live on the body. Lice are actually parasites that live in body hair, specifically, pubic hair. Scabies are a form of a mite that burrows under the skin in the genital area, chest hair or on hands and fingers. Crabs and Scabies are definitely spread through sexual contact. As bodies press together, the lice and scabies “jump” from one moist, dark place to another. Both are extremely contagious! You can move a mite or parasite with your fingers to other hairy parts of your body or your partner. Oftentimes, children get Crabs or Scabies through contact with their parents. You can also contract crabs or scabies through infected bedding, toilet seats (YES, TOILET SEATS) or towels. Basically, anywhere a mite or parasite can live it can get onto you. Since these little critters are super small, how do you know if you are infected? Sometimes you can see the lice in the hairy parts of your body (if you can actually SEE your pubic area). You will most likely have severe itching and sometimes even bloody evidence on your underwear if the lice get under your skin. Scabies also cause itching and you can observe reddish, zig-zag burrows under the skin in the genital area or buttocks. Sometimes these burrows are also evident between fingers, skin folds in elbows, wrists or under arms. To kill these tiny bugs, obtain a prescription cream or lotion from your doctor. Some over the counter products are available (like RID) but these will not work on all types of Crabs. ALL CLOTHES, BEDDING and TOWELS MUST be disinfected in HOT water. Furniture, beds, mattresses, chairs – all must be disinfected! If you do not kill ALL the parasites, you will get reinfected! Scratching will only spread these mites quicker – so do not scratch!

HUMAN INNUNO-DEFICIENCY VIRUS (HIV): Finally, the most severe STD that you can acquire is HIV – AIDS. This virus attacks and utterly destroys the body’s immune system – which in turn leaves the person vulnerable to life-threatening diseases that otherwise might not be life threatening. Those at greatest risk are those persons who are already immuno compromised, those with other STDs, homosexuals, IV drug users, and everyone else who does not practice safe sex. You get HIV through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex with someone infected with HIV or AIDS. This virus can also be spread through blood, semen or vaginal fluids outside of sexual intercourse. For example, sharing IV drug needles, blood transfusions (from past years, most blood nowadays is filtered); having an unsterilized tattoo needle that was used on someone with HIV, or other swapping of blood, semen or vaginal fluids. Women can infect their unborn child before or after birth – but it is not always transmitted. HIV IS NOT SPREAD THROGH CASUAL CONTACT! The incubation period for HIV is 1-10 years. HIV is the primary disease, but in later stages it will develop into AIDS. Symptoms vary and may not be evident for years after exposure. HIV is usually identified through a positive antibody test – then the person becomes “HIV Positive.” You are then a carrier and you may not even feel sick or have symptoms. You can spread the disease as soon as you contract it.

ACQUIRED IMMUNDE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (AIDS): HIV progresses into AIDS years later (most likely 5-10) and symptoms vary greatly. Some common symptoms are: swollen lymph nodes, night swears, fever, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, thrush and shingles. Most times a person is diagnosed when they present with a “normal” infection that will not get better. Or, if they know that they carry HIV, they notice the progression to AIDS when infections get worse and are harder to treat. Doctors can treat the subsequent infections, but can NOT treat or cure HIV. When HIV turns into “full blown AIDS” the immune system completely shuts down and the person dies from any number of diseases that have taken the opportunity to attack the immuno compromised person. Things like chicken pox can become fatal at this point. What actually kills the person is NOT the AIDS, but the infection or disease that they contract while immuno compromised. While there are many new drugs which are proving effective in treating HIV SYMPTOMS, there is NO DRUG or CURE for HIV / AIDS. There are new combinations of drugs that are proving helpful in staving off AIDS or at least prolonging the advance of the disease from HIV to AIDS. The most important thing to do if you think you might have HIV is to GET TESTED! Early intervention is the best chance at a longer life and a better chance for overall survival. To prevent HIV / AIDS ALWAYS have protected sex! While condoms are NOT 100% effective, they offer at least a primary barrier between the carrier and yourself. Any oral, vaginal or penile contact that involves bodily fluids can transmit the disease, so KNOW YOUR PARTNER!

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AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION: As you can see there are many STDs that one can contract if safe sex is NOT practiced. From mildly annoying itching to live parasites making a home in your pubic hair to even death in some cases – STDs are gross and not pleasant to have! The BEST WAY to avoid contracting an STD – outside of abstinence – is to PROTECT yourself by using condoms. Better yet, know your partner, question him or her and have STD panels ran BEFORE you have sex. Yes, it is unromantic to visit the clinic before you commit to being intimate, but in today’s world, your life may literally depend on it! Being careful and cognizant about your health – and the health of your partner – is a duty that you OWE YOURSELF! Many of these diseases manifest in the same manner – so if you have anything unusual going on – GO TO THE DOCTOR! While this article is a basic guide – and more information is always available online – there is no substitute for a test from your doctor! Many of these diseases require immediate action and medical treatment – time is of the essence. When HIV or AIDS is concerned, time can be your enemy and cost you your life – do not wait! Practice safe sex – know your partner – be educated about sex and how to protect yourself! An ounce of prevention is worth years of treatment – be prepared!


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