AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases
Millions of people are affected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) of all kinds. Yet, since we first began hearing about the AIDS epidemic in the early l98Os, many people seem to have forgotten that other STDs are still a cause for concern.
AIDS is the most deadly STD, other diseases such as gonorrhea, genital herpes, hepatitis B, and chlamydia also pose seririous health risks.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
The virus is spread through some types of sexual contact, shared intravenous (IV) needles, and introduction of infected blood or semen into the body. Once a person becomes infected with HIV, it can take years before AIDS actually develops. Although drugs like zidovudine (AZT) can slow progression of the disease, at this point there is no cure. HIV also damages the immune system, allowing a person to get other infections.
Even if an infected person is otherwise healthy and has not yet developed AIDS, any time after he or she becomes infected with HIV this person can spread it to other people. This can occur through unprotected sexual contact (intercourse without a condom) or shared IV drug needles.
This is a bacterial infection. Those at high risk for chlamydia infections include sexually active young adults (under age 25, especially teenagers), those who have several sexual partners or a new sexual partner within the last two months, and those whose sexual partner has chlamydia. In women, chlamydia can cause inflammation of the cervix and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)—a leading cause of ectopic pregnancies (when the fetus attaches and grows in the fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus) and infertility. In men, it can cause inflammation of the urethra, the organ through which urine passes, and the epididymis, where sperm are stored, Fortunately, chlamydia is easily cured by taking antibiotics for a week.
Genital Herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2)
Herpes simplex virus type 2 causes painful sores and blisters on the genitals and around the mouth. Even after the initial outbreak of sores heals, an infected person may carry the virus for years, with new sores erupting from time to time. The herpes virus can be spread to other people through sexual contact whether sores are present or not. Although there is no cure for herpes, there are drugs that can reduce the length and pain of herpes outbreaks.
In men, the infection can cause inflammation of the genitals and rectum. In women, it can cause painful PID and complications during pregnancy. People who have several partners are at high risk for gonorrhea, but anyone can get infected. Fortunately, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)
HBV is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. It can be transmitted sexually. High-risk factors for getting HBV include IV drug abuse, having several sexual partners, or having a partner who is currently infected or a chronic carrier. If you think you have recently been exposed to HBV, your doctor may be able to give you hepatitis B immune globulin to prevent hepatitis from developing.
In early stages, this infection causes ulcers on the genitals, rectum and throat which are often painless. If left untreated, it can produce warts in the genital area, contagious sores on he genit1 the body, disease of the lymph nodes and later problems with the nervous system, and heart and mentai illnessSyphilis, can be treated with antibiotics.
Special Risks during Pregnancy
Sexually transmitted diseases pose special risks during pregnancy. All the STDs discussed above can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, at birth, or shortly after. Often, STDs can lead to serious health problems for newborns. Women who have syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics during pregnancy to prevent complications for themselves and their babies. Women with active genital herpes sores may need to deliver by caesarean section to keep their babies from getting the virus. Women who are HIV positive should take the drug zidovudine (PIT) during pregnancy to reduce the risk of passing the virus to the baby.
The two best ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases are to abstain from sex or to have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with someone who is uninfected.
Always use a latex condom and spermicidal. Choose latex condoms with receptacle tips rather than natural membrane condoms, which may be more likely to break or to allow viruses and bacteria to pass through. The spermicide nonoxynol has also been shown to provide added protection against HIV, HBV, and herpes simplex virus. It also reduces the risk of chlamydia and gonorrhea in women.
Limit the number of sexual partners you have. Remember that when it comes to STDs, having sex outside of a mutually monogamous relationship puts you at the same risk as if you had sex with all your partner’s partners. Thus, the more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk for STDs.
If you think you may have an STD, see your medical provider. He or she can advise you on whether you should be tested, and treat you properly if you test positive.