What is an STD?

A Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD), often referred to as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), is any disease or infection that may be transmitted by human sexual behavior. This includes intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. Transmission of some STD’s can also occur from using an IV needle that has already been used by an infected person as well or by receiving a blood transfusion of infected blood. A mother can pass on some infections to her baby through pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

STD’s come is various forms and can be grouped as bacterial, viral, parasitic and protozoal. Bacterial infections include Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Viral infections include HPV and HIV. Parasites include Pubic Lice and Scabies. Protozoal infections include Trichomoniasis. Some fungal infections such as Candidiasis (yeast infection) can also be considered STD’s in some cases.

Other infections can also be passed from one person to another during sexual activity. However, if this is not the main cause of their spread, they are not classed as STD’s. This list includes influenza, common colds, pneumonia and meningitis.

History
The first recorded infections were those if Syphilis in 15th Century Italy. When the French invaded, the soldiers took it back to France and from there it spread to the rest of Europe. In only two generations, the disease had mutated into the form that is commonly known today.

Early occurrences of STD’s were untreatable by medicine of the time and the sufferer often died. It was only with the creation of antibiotics that the diseases were not perceived as life threatening after that point. In fact, antibiotics made the general public feel that STD’s were no longer a threat, easily treatable and not something to really worry about. However, this is a misconception because antibiotics are successful only at curing bacterial infections.

When HIV and AIDS first made the public’s attention in the 1980’s, it became clear that modern antibiotics could not cure this infection. A worldwide campaign was launched to educate a permissive public to practice safe sex and to be screened for STD’s before entering a sexual relationship with someone new. It is possible to be a carrier without any of the symptoms so testing for both partners is important.

Screening
Screening is still a recommended practice. It is confidential and can help to prevent the spread of any kind of disease. Anyone diagnosed as infected can be treated and any previous sexual partners can be traced, tested and treated if necessary. It is hoped that this cycle of testing, treating and tracing will help to reduce the number of infected people worldwide.

Prevention and Spread
In most cases, condoms can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Unprotected sexual intercourse and various other unprotected sex acts can aid in the transmission of STD’s, so practicing safe sex is very important.

Unprotected intercourse, even in circumstances where there is only minimal penetration, can allow the transmission of gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis. Even if the male does not ejaculate there is still risk as the infection can be carried in all male fluids and in the female vaginal fluids. Anal intercourse bears a greater risk of infection of the same diseases due to the thin wall of the anus being easy to damage and allowing the infection to pass into the rest of body.

Chlamydia, herpes (type 1 and type 2, which can cause cold sores around the mouth and on the genitals or anus), gonorrhoea, genital warts, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis can all be transmitted during oral sex, especially if there is any damage to skin or tissue. Giving oral sex bears a greater risk than receiving as, when receiving, you do not come in to contact with the bodily fluids of the other partner, with the exception of saliva, which is a low risk factor in most cases. Oral sex can be made safer by using a condom or a dam (a square of thin plastic to cover the female’s genitals and anus).

Fingers carry little risk of passing on infections. The exception is when there are cuts or other blemishes on the fingers. This can heighten the risk of transmission of blood-borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

Sharing sex toys can raise the risk of infections such as Chlamydia, syphilis, herpes hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. The latter two, this is increased when there are cuts or abrasions to the skin in any area that the toy touches. It is important to practice good hygiene when sharing sex toys. Ensure that they are always cleaned thoroughly and that a new condom is used, where one can be fitted onto the toy.

Urine and feces carry little risk of infection unless coming in contact with mouth, eyes or broken skin. Feces carry the most risk as it contains organisms that can cause illness or infection.

Cutting or piercing the skin carries a high risk of infection when coming into contact with the blood of an infected person from HIV and Hepatitis B and C. When considering getting a tattoo or piercing, care should be taken to ensure the establishment follows strict hygiene practices and that needles are sterilized before use or are disposable.

Testing and Treatment
If a person believes they may have an STD, they should consult with their doctor or local clinic immediately. Tests can be done and treatment started within a short period of time, limiting the damage done by the infection. Tests usually require a urine sample, a vaginal swab or a blood sample. All of the tests are usually painless and easy to do. The test results are usually available within a few days and the person is notified of the result. If treatment is required, an appointment is usually arranged at the same time as notification.

The stigma of having an STD is gradually being educated away. Most people realize the importance of being treated quickly and make a responsible decision to be tested. Younger people are also, through education, becoming more aware of the need for testing, especially when moving from one partner to another and realizing that symptoms may not be apparent.

With awareness rising in the younger generation, it is hoped that the instance of sexually transmitted disease will see a decline.

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