Health care professionals take sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) very seriously because they can cause significant medical problems, including cancer, neurological disorders, and infertility. And if you’re sexually active, you should be aware of the risk.
Unfortunately, after years of decline, the number of reported STDs has climbed steadily in the United States since 2013. Nearly 2.3 million cases were identified in 2017, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2018.
Avisheh Forouzesh, MD, is an infectious disease specialist with years of training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She knows that testing, early diagnosis, and the right treatment can reduce or even eliminate the overall health risks of STDs. Dr. Forouzesh encourages her patients to feel comfortable about STD testing and its value as a preventive screening measure.
Types of STDs
STDs are categorized according to the organism causing the infection and may be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic.
Bacterial STDs include:
- Bacterial vaginosis
Viral STDs include:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection and a vaginal yeast infection is fungal.
STDs can lead to serious illness
The health consequences of an untreated STD can become quite serious. Syphilis, for instance, can cause organ failure and/or neurologic damage that affects the way you move and your ability to think clearly. Syphilis infections have risen by 76% since 2013 according to the CDC.
Hepatitis B causes a serious liver infection that may result in liver cancer. Untreated gonorrhea can spread through your bloodstream and lead to painful joint disorders. It’s also a cause of infertility in both men and women.
Fortunately, effective treatments are available to treat and cure most STDs, except for a few viral STDs which can be treated but not cured - yet!
Early diagnosis of STDs is vital
Many STDs are relatively simple to treat when diagnosed early. Bacterial or parasitic infections, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, may only require a round or a single dose of antibiotics when in their early stages.
There is no cure yet for viral STDs, such as genital herpes and HIV. Your symptoms can often be well managed, however, with treatment.
Early diagnosis of a viral STD also means your physician knows to monitor you closely for future health concerns, such as cervical cancer linked to an HPV infection. Cervical cancer responds very well to early treatment, which may be as simple as your gynecologist snipping away a small cluster of abnormal cells.
Testing is the only way to determine whether you have an STD
Symptoms of an STD can often be very nonspecific and mistaken for other illnesses, such as a simple flu virus or urinary tract issue.
Signs of an STD may include:
- Fever, sore throat, and headache
- Pain or burning with urination
- Vaginal itching and irritation
- Painful bowel movements
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Genital discharge
Some STDs don’t cause symptoms at all or the symptoms may occur well after the sexual encounter. Even without symptoms, though, you can still spread the infection to your partner. STD testing is the only sure way to identify an infection so that an effective treatment strategy is developed.
STD testing methods include:
- Blood test
- Urine test and culture
- Genital fluid or lesion culture
Preventing the spread of STDs
There are things you can do to prevent STDs from spreading, including:
Certain viral STDs, such as hepatitis B and HPV can be prevented through vaccinations.
Condoms can be very effective when used appropriately. It’s important to remember, however, that some STDs can spread through oral sex, and some STDs, such as genital warts, are transferred with skin-to-skin contact. A wart outside the area of condom coverage can spread the infection to your partner.
It may not be an easy conversation, but carefully questioning a prospective partner about their previous sexual practices and STD history is a MUST when you’re entering a new relationship.
Other ways to help prevent the spread of STDs include:
- Asking a new partner who has had previous sexual encounters to get tested
- Undergoing testing yourself and sharing the results with your partner
- Advising previous partners — if you’ve been diagnosed with an STD — so they can seek treatment and share the information with their current partner
- Using a condom whenever you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- Avoiding risky sexual behaviors such as having unprotected sex with unknown or multiple partners
For complete details about STDs, their medical impact, STD testing, and the treatments available, schedule an appointment with specialist Dr. Forouzesh at Advanced Infectious Disease Medical. Call the office or book your visit online.