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Getting and treating STDs

Getting and treating STDs

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Forty years ago there were only two common sexually transmitted diseases among Americans. Today there are 25. Here are six that public health officials are most worried about.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) leads to AIDS, which destroys the body’s ability to fight off infections. AIDS has infected more than 1 million Americans and killed more than 583,000.

Transmission: Unprotected sexual activity and sharing needles used to inject drugs.

Symptoms: HIV creates flu-like symptoms for a week. Years later, AIDS can lead to extreme fatigue, sudden weight loss, swollen glands, mental deterioration, high fevers, sores and diarrhea.

Treatment: Since 1996 the use of antiretroviral drugs has prolonged life.

Complications: Various deadly infections and cancers; death.


From the Greek word “chlamys” for cloak, this disease often has no symptoms and has infected unknowing millions. In 2008, 1.2 million new infections were reported.

Transmission: Vaginal, oral or anal sexual contact with an infected partner. A pregnant woman can pass the infection to her infant during delivery.

Symptoms: In women, vaginal discharge, pain and bleeding during sex, abdominal pain, painful urination. In men, discharge from penis, burning during urination.

Treatment: Easily cured with antibiotics.

Complications: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, ectopic pregnancy.

Genital herpes/HSV

One out of five Americans, or 45 million, have had the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Transmission: Oral or genital sexual contact.

Symptoms: Cold sores or blisters on the lips and genital area.

Treatment: Antiviral medications can control symptoms.

Complications: Periodic outbreaks. Can be fatal to infants if contracted from mother.

Genital HPV infection

An estimated 20 million Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire HPV at some point.

Transmission: Can be spread through oral, vaginal and anal sex.

Symptoms: Genital warts on both men and women on, around and inside sexual organs.

Treatment: A new vaccine is available. A person’s immune system kills most infections. Careful monitoring and removal of abnormal or precancerous cell growth.

Complications: Cervical and genital cancers.


“The clap” strikes more than 700,000 persons annually in the United States. Only about half of these bacterial infections are reported to CDC.

Transmission: Contact with an infected person’s penis, vagina, mouth or anus. A mother can pass it to her baby during childbirth.

Symptoms: Discharge from the vagina or penis, painful or difficult urination.

Treatment: Curable with antibiotics, though drug-resistant strains are increasing.

Complications: PID, ectopic pregnancy, infertility. Life-threatening if bacteria spreads to blood or joints. Higher risk of HIV transmission.


This disease is making a comeback, with more than 36,000 cases in the United States in 2006.

Transmission: Direct contact with syphilis sores during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Pregnant women can pass it to infants.

Symptoms: Called the “great imitator” because the first sign, a painless lesion on a sex organ or mouth, can be mistaken for other ailments. Second stage includes rash, flu-like symptoms.

Treatment: Curable with penicillin injections.

Complications: Blindness, heart diseases, nerve disorders, mental confusion, organ, bone, blood vessel and joint damage and death. Increased risk of HIV transmission.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control

— Shawn Doherty


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