Sunday, March 23, 2008

STD: Reasons to Take the Flashlight to Bed

Sexually transmitted diseases and the worries about lumps and bumps "down there" account for a majority of doctor visits per year in sexually-active single adults. Because the possibility of sterility in certain infections, you'll never go wrong with an STD exam. Some infections (such as HIV or herpes) may be life-long so even if you are monogamous, you may eventually contract the symptoms for that STD without proper condom use. Certainly, using condoms often prevents STDs but they do not give a 100 percent guarantee (to that end does monogamy give a 100 percent guarantee?) and do not cover all infected areas (such as genital warts). Here's an overview of the more popular culprits:

Genital Warts are caused by the surprisingly common human papillomavirus. The warts appear as a few millimeter skin-colored cauliflower-like growths. They occur almost anywhere in the genital area. Skin-skin contact including areas not covered by a condom (base of the penis) spread warts to the inside and outside parts of the vagina and around the anal area. The treatment is to destroy them chemically, physically by freezing them with liquid nitrogen [is this cutting them off?? Sometimes have to actually surgically remove them but may also use freezing] or by laser. While there may be lifetime infection, after a period of no warts and consistent treatment, some believe the virus leaves permanently. Remember the warts may be internal and not easily seen, and signs of infection can begin several weeks to several years after exposure -- so it's not always easily spotted But since certain subtypes of the virus increase your risk of cervical and anal cancer, it's important to have them treated.

Genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2. Type 1 historically infected the mouth and caused cold sores. Type 2 historically infected the genital area. However, these days, both infect either location. Genital-genital or oral-genital contact spreads the virus. First exposure produces a flu-like illness with fever and painful ulcers. Recurrences bring a tingling, burning sensation to the skin and the subsequent eruption of vesicles (fluid filled cluster of bumps). They are often painful and very contagious (meaning they contain a lot of the virus). The virus hangs out in the nerve cells and comes and goes throughout one's life, especially in periods of decreased immunity like when you're stressed. Even if a person does not have an active infection, he or she may spread the virus. The antiviral medication acyclovir and topical antiviral pencyclovir treat the symptoms but do not get rid of the virus -- once you have contracted the herpes virus, you have it forever. Signs of infection begin several days to weeks after exposure.

Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria infects the urethra (the tube where urine comes out) and genital tract. This disease is extremely common in sexually-active adults even though rates have declined over the last decade with public education and condom use. An infected individual may have no signs of infection, or they may have a milky discharge with or without painful urination or abdominal pain. This infection is easily treated with antibiotics. Signs of infection begin a week after exposure.

Gonorrhea (also known as the "clap") is caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. When Chlamydia infection in suspected, the individual is also usually treated for gonorrhea (with injected or oral antibiotics). Treatment prevents infection spreading to the body and joints and the possibility of sterility. The symptoms usually include a thick, yellow discharge and painful urination. Signs of infection begin two to seven days after exposure.

HIV infection is caused by the retrovirus human immunodeficiency virus. The virus is spread from exchange of semen, vaginal fluid, blood, and breast milk. Initially the virus may cause a severe flu-like illness. The virus infects T-cells within the immune system and destroys the body's ability to fight infection. Eventually the immune system become so battered that the person is susceptible to various diseases we normally encounter harmlessly everyday. At some point, after having a low enough number of T-cells or getting certain diseases, a person meets the criteria of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Treatment against HIV includes various oral medications or a protecting against particular infections with vaccines or antibiotics. There is no vaccine or medicine to completely rid the body of HIV at this point. Signs of infection begin weeks to months after exposure.

Hepatitis is caused by various types of hepatitis viruses. Type A may be spread through oral-anal contact. Type B, the most common as an STD, is very contagious and spreads through exchange of most body fluids. Type C may be rarely transmitted through sexual intercourse. These viruses primarily attack the liver and produce fever, nausea, malaise, or jaundice (yellow color to skin). Chronic disease and liver failure may occur with or without treatment. The medication depends on the type and severity of infection. Prevention is the key. There are vaccines against both Hepatitis B and A. Persons who have had more than one sex partner in the previous six months and men who have sex with men are strongly recommended to receive vaccination against Hepatitis B. Immunization against Hepatitis A is strongly recommended for gay and bisexual men. Signs of infection begin weeks to years after infection.

Syphilis is cause by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. Three progressively severe stages occur over years. In the first stage, a painless several centimeter ulcer may appear in the genital area. The second stage comes after months or even years and its symptoms include rashes on the palms and feet and wart-like growths in the genital region. The third stage, neurosyphilis, affects the brain and nervous system and may cause permanent damage. Interestingly, syphilis has been known to mimic almost any disease. Caught early, through a blood test, the infection is easily treated with penicillin. There are occasional outbreaks in the news such as a recent occurrence in the gay community. Signs of infection begin several weeks to months after exposure.

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