Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are very common, and having an STD is nothing to be ashamed of – but it is important to understand them, so you can enjoy a healthy sex life without worrying about contracting or spreading any STDs. If you want to learn about what the most common STDs are, as well as their symptoms and how to treat them – then read on and discover more about the 5 most common STDs.
How STDs Are Spread
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1 million STDs are transmitted every day worldwide. STDs can be transmitted from one person to another through sexual activity including vaginal, oral and anal sex. They can also spread through intimate physical contact, blood and blood products.
The Most Common STDs
According to the World Health Organisation, there are more than 30 different diseases that are known to spread through sexual contact. The eight most common STDs are syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Of these 8 STDs, 4 are curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other 4 are viral infections, which are currently incurable, but their symptoms can be reduced, managed or modified through treatment. Chlamydia is the most common curable STD, while HPV is the most common incurable STD.
Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis, and it is spread through sexual intercourse with someone who already has it.
It infects the urinary tract in men and the vagina in women, it often causes no apparent symptoms. When it does cause symptoms, they usually appear within 5 to 28 days of exposure and range from mild irritation to severe inflammation.
Symptoms may include:
- Clear, white, greenish or yellowish vaginal discharge
- Discharge from the penis
- Strong vaginal odour
- Vaginal itching or irritation
- Itching or irritation inside the penis
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Painful urination
The most common treatment for trichomoniasis is one large dose of either metronidazole or tinidazole. However, your doctor might recommend a lower dose twice a day over seven days.
Chlamydia is spread mostly by sexual intercourse, but you can also get it through oral sex.
Common symptoms include an odd discharge from your vagina or penis, pain or burning when you urinate and lower abdominal pain. Other symptoms include pain during sexual intercourse and bleeding between periods in women, as well as testicular pain in men. But only about 25% of women and 50% of men get symptoms, so it’s important to get tested if you think you have contracted chlamydia.
Chlamydia is caused by bacteria, so it’s treated with antibiotics. After you are treated, you should get retested in three months, even if your partner has been treated as well.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection affecting your genital tract. It can also affect your mouth, throat, eyes and anus.
Symptoms generally start to show within 10 days after exposure. However, some people may be infected for months before signs or symptoms occur.
Commons signs and symptoms include:
- Thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods
- Painful, swollen testicles
- Painful bowel movements
- Anal itching
If you have Gonorrhoea, your doctor will likely prescribe two antibiotics: ceftriaxone and either azithromycin or doxycycline. Ceftriaxone is given as a one-time injection, while the other two antibiotics are taken by mouth.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is transmitted when blood, semen, or vaginal fluids from an infected person enter another person’s body, usually through sexual contact. It interferes with your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that can cause serious illness. If left untreated it can lead to AIDS, a chronic and life-threatening disease.
When first infected with HIV, you may appear asymptomatic. Some people develop flu-like symptoms, usually two to six weeks after contracting it.
Early HIV symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
These early symptoms often clear up within a week to a month and are often mistaken for a viral infection. However, during this period, you can still be highly infectious.
More persistent and severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection. As the virus continues to multiply and destroy immune cells, you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, diarrhoea, weight loss, fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The only way to know for sure that you have HIV is to be tested, so if suspect you may have HIV, get tested as soon as you can.
Although a cure for HIV does not yet exist, it can be treated and managed by taking medicine that slows the progression of the virus in your body. The combination of drugs used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
ART can keep you healthy for many years by reducing the amount of virus (or viral load) in your blood and body fluids. This is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are. ART also reduces your chance of transmitting HIV to others if taken as prescribed.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection, which affects genitals, skin and mucous membranes, but it can also involve many other parts of the body, including your brain and heart.
The symptoms of syphilis occur in four stages: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary (also known as neurosyphilis). There’s also a condition known as congenital syphilis, where pregnant women with syphilis can pass it on to their unborn children. Congenital syphilis can be life-threatening, so it’s important for pregnant women with syphilis to be tested and treated.
The first signs of syphilis usually occur 10 days to 3 months after exposure. Starting with a small, painless sore (chancre) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted, usually your genitals, rectum, tongue or lips. A single chancre is typical, but often there are multiple sores. The sore usually heals without treatment, but the underlying STD remains and may reappear at a later stage.
Symptoms of secondary syphilis may begin 3 to 6 weeks after the chancre appears, symptoms may disappear without treatment within a few weeks or repeatedly come and go for as long as a year.
Symptoms of secondary syphilis include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Soreness and aching
- Fatigue and a vague feeling of discomfort
Some people experience a period called latent syphilis, in which no symptoms are present. Symptoms may never return, or the disease may progress to the tertiary stage.
Without treatment, syphilis bacteria can spread and lead to serious internal organ damage and death years after the initial infection.
Symptoms of tertiary syphilis include:
- Lack of coordination
When diagnosed and treated in its early stages, syphilis is easy to cure. The recommended treatment at all stages is penicillin, an antibiotic that kills the organism that causes syphilis. People who are allergic to penicillin can undergo a course of doxycycline or tetracycline antibiotic treatment.
The best way to prevent STDs is by practising safe sex and using condoms. It’s also advisable to get vaccinations to protect yourself from STDs like Hepatitis B and HPV. If you think you have caught an STD – get tested! The sooner you find out, the easier it will be to treat.