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Most Common Types of STD’s
  • Health Blog

Most Common Types of STD’s

You thought sexually transmitted diseases were almost eradicated? Think again. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are infected by STDs. By raising awareness among more people in society about the importance of getting help when you’ve contracted an STD, we aim to bring this alarmingly high rate down. To this end, we have compiled a list of the most common types of STDs. We also provide information on how to recognise, prevent and treat STDs

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is common in the UK with more than 200,000 cases reported each year. Sexually active young adults under the age of 25 are most likely to end up with this STD.

What are the signs?

Chlamydia is caused by bacteria that nestle in the mucous skin on the inside of the vagina, the penis, the mouth, the anus or the urinary tract, where they multiply. Chlamydia often goes unnoticed and can be difficult to detect because the symptoms are usually non-specific or mild. A few weeks after infection you may notice:

  1. Pain when urinating;
  2. Unusual discharge from the rectum (back passage) or itching/irritation in this region;
  3. In men, discharge from the penis & or pain in the testicles;
  4. In women, bleeding between periods, bleeding during or after sex, increased vaginal discharge, pain in the tummy (possibly accompanied by fever).

Preventing and treating chlamydia

Chlamydia is contracted and passed on from one person to another through unprotected sex. The only way to prevent the spread of this STD is by using a condom every time you have sex. If you think you have chlamydia, you should have it treated immediately. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and lead to long-term health problems such as infertility, epididymo-orchitis (inflammation of the testicles) or pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the womb and Fallopian tubes). Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics.

Genital warts

Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). The infection is transmitted from one person to another by sexual intercourse, skin-to-skin contact or by coming into contact with an object contaminated by HPV, such as bedding or towels.

What are the signs?

Genital warts are small, cauliflower-shaped lumps found on the penis or around the vagina, labia and anus. The warts are usually painless, although some people may experience symptoms of itchiness and irritation. The warts are usually greyish-white or skin-coloured to pink or red. Not everyone who is infected will display these symptoms, so it is possible to spread the infection unknowingly.

Preventing and treating genital warts

Using condoms can help protect against the virus that causes genital warts. However, protection offered by condoms is not 100% because HPV is also spread by skin-to-skin contact and objects (e.g. sex toys or towels). Good hygiene is a vital part of genital wart prevention and treatment. While hygiene itself will not prevent an outbreak, it does help if you practise safe sex, wash your hands regularly and do not use other people’s towels or washcloths. Genital warts usually heal without treatment, although this may take up to several years. If the warts are causing a great deal of discomfort, there are treatments that cause them to gradually shrivel up and fall off. However, once you get infected with HPV, the virus stays in your body and the warts may recur.

Genital herpes

The herpes simplex virus, also known as HSV, is an infection that causes herpes. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth. There are two types of the herpes simplex virus. One type causes oral herpes: cold sores and fever blisters around the mouth. The other type is responsible for genital herpes outbreaks. Genital herpes is a highly contagious STD.

What are the signs?

People with genital herpes have the following symptoms:

  1. Burning or itchy blisters or sores around the penis, vagina or anus;
  2. Pain during urination;
  3. Fever;
  4. Swollen lymphatic glands.

Although the initial symptoms of genital herpes usually clear up after a few weeks, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the body and may be reactivated from time to time, causing recurrent outbreaks.

Preventing and treating genital herpes

Genital herpes is transmitted through unprotected sex. The virus can also be passed on to other parts of the body via the hands or mouth. Using a condom during sex can prevent infection. It is also important to practise good hygiene (i.e. wash your hands regularly and do not use other people’s towels, washcloths or underwear) to reduce the chance of infection. The symptoms of genital herpes can be treated with antiviral medication. Medication will shorten the outbreak, but it won’t kill the virus.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases among homosexual men. But heterosexuals can be infected, too.

What are the signs?

Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacterium. Not all people infected with gonorrhoea have symptoms. Gonorrhoea symptoms that may occur include:

  1. In men, greenish yellow or whitish discharge from the penis (‘drip’);
  2. In women, foul-smelling, puss-like discharge from the vagina or bleeding between periods;
  3. Pain during urination;
  4. Itching/irritation in the anal region, stools containing mucus;
  5. Throat infection or other infections;
  6. Swollen glands in the throat.

Preventing and treating gonorrhoea

Practising safe oral, vaginal and anal sex by using condoms and dams is an effective way of reducing the risk of gonorrhoea. Gonorrhoea can normally be treated with antibiotics. It is important to start with medication before any complications arise. Untreated gonorrhoea infections can lead to many complications such as inflammation of the Fallopian tubes, testicles or prostate gland.

HIV

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defence system. HIV is transmitted through blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluids.

What are the signs?

The initial symptoms of HIV can be so mild as to go unnoticed. Some people have a short flu-like illness soon after infection. At this stage, HIV infection is often not the first thing you would suspect, allowing the infection to progress. Symptoms of later-stage HIV infection include:

  1. Fatigue;
  2. Shortage of breath;
  3. Night sweats;
  4. Weight loss;
  5. Fever;
  6. Diarrhoea

If untreated, HIV will progress to AIDS.

Preventing and treating HIV infection

HIV infection can be prevented by practising safe sex, avoiding the exchange of bodily fluids and contaminated blood. (Needles and other piercing tools should never be shared as in tattooing, ear piercing, etc.) HIV is treated with combinations of drugs called antiretrovirals. These work by stopping the virus replicating in the body so that HIV doesn’t develop into full-blown AIDS. Once HIV treatment is started, you will probably need to take the medication for the rest of your life.

Syphilis

Syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications. It is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, which nestles in the mucous membranes of the genitals, anus or mouth. Transmission of syphilis occurs during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

What are the signs?

The appearance of syphilitic sores, known as chancres, marks the first stage of syphilis. These painless sores appear at the location where syphilis entered the body (e.g. the mouth or anus.) The characteristic rash of secondary syphilis may appear as reddish brown spots both on the palms of the hands and the bottom of the feet. These symptoms will go away with or without treatment, but the infected person will continue to have the syphilis infection in their body. Other symptoms of syphilis include:

  1. Swollen glands;
  2. Flu-like symptoms;
  3. Hair loss;
  4. Eye problems.

Late stage syphilis can develop in people who have not been treated for syphilis, and can appear up to 30 years after the infection was first acquired. In the late stages of syphilis, the disease may seriously damage the internal organs, including the brain, heart, bones and eyes (leading to gradual blindness).

Preventing and treating syphilis

The best way to prevent syphilis is to practise safe sex. In rare instances, it can also be spread through direct, close contact with an active lesion — for example, during kissing. The treatment of syphilis usually involves an antibiotic injection. Post-treatment may take years.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause serious liver damage and inflammation. The good news is that hepatitis B can be prevented by getting the hepatitis B vaccine.

What are the signs?

Most people do not experience any symptoms initially. Two to three months after infection the following symptoms may occur:

  1. Fatigue;
  2. Nausea;
  3. Fever;
  4. Muscle or joint pain;
  5. Stomach ache;
  6. Yellow discoloration of the white of the eyes and the skin.

Preventing and treating hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be prevented by using a condom when you have sex. This STD is also transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, so do not share needles, razors or toothbrushes. The hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection. In most cases, hepatitis B goes away on its own, although this may take months. Some people have chronic hepatitis B disease. Chronic hepatitis B is treated with antiviral drugs.

Candida infection

Often called a yeast infection, candidiasis is actually an STD caused by a fungus called Candida. Strictly speaking, it is not classed a sexually transmitted disease because it can be present in men and women who are not in a sexual relationship. Although the infection is not necessarily spread through sexual contact, it is possible that it is passed on via the genitals through unsafe sex.

What are the signs?

Many women will experience candidiasis at some point in their lives. Symptoms of this type of yeast infection include:

  1. Itching in and around the vagina;
  2. Increase in vaginal discharge, often whitish and thick (cottage cheese-like discharge);
  3. Swollen labia, possibly with white spots;
  4. Pain during urination.

Most men with genital candidiasis don’t have any symptoms. In some cases, the head of the penis is inflamed (red) or scaly.

Preventing and treating candida infection

The Candida yeast can multiply out of control when the natural balance of yeasts and bacteria in the vagina is disrupted. To prevent this it is best to avoid washing your vaginal area with soap. You should also use a condom when you have sex. This is because the alkaline pH value of semen can disturb the acidic environment of the vagina. Also wear cotton underwear, as yeast tends to overgrow in damp, moist environments. If the infection is causing a great deal of discomfort, it can be treated with antifungal medication.

Important!

Prevention is better than cure. So make sure you don’t catch an STD and wear a condom! If you’ve had unprotected sex or have symptoms that could suggest an infection, go to your doctor or sexual health clinic immediately and have yourself screened. If you have contracted an STD, it’s also important to notify your (former) sexual contacts so that they can have themselves tested and treated as well. For more information on STDs, visit the SoaAids website.

Sources: Soaaids.nl, Sense.info, Geslachtsziekte.nl, nhs.uk, Bupa UK, Euro-meds, Sexualityandu.ca