“I am a 21 year old male.Last weekend I went to a party at a club and probably drank a little too much. Next morning I woke up next to someone I had never met before! You get the picture. Now, there are blisters on my genital area with pus oozing out of it. What could this be an STI, what should I do?” This is the story of not just one of my patients, but many other people you know.
This is a very common question asked by youngsters in complete anonymity to avoid a visit to the doctor. Many such queries fill the health column of news dailies hoping the doctor at the other end replies that this is nothing serious. But, the worst may be true. Most of them have probably contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Sexually Transmitted Diseases, known as STDs are most often, but not exclusively, spread via sexual intercourse. They are one of the most common forms of contagious diseases, means they can easily be transferred from one person to another. Every year, there are about 20 million cases of STDs reported, with majority of infections diagnosed in people aged between 15-24 years. Earlier known as venereal diseases (VD), not all these infections lead to symptoms.
How does one get infected with STDs?
There are several ways to transmit a STD. The most common way is through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some infections can also be spread through towels, toilet seats or damp clothing. The risk of sexually transmitted diseases increases if:
One has more than one sexual partner
One becomes sexually active at an early age
One has sexual contact with someone who has had multiple partners
One does not use a condom during sexual intercourse
One shares needles for taking drugs
One myth about STDs are that they cannot be spread through oral or anal sex. The bummer here is that STDs can even be transmitted through the non sexual route. Oral sex, dry sex and even kissing can transmit the infection to your partner, through cuts and wounds in the mouth, anus and genitals. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread so easily that many people even fail to realize that they may be infected. Such people are in acute danger of transmitting the infection to their sexual partners unknowingly.
STDs do not spare anybody. One should always be careful while having sex as that can increase the chances of getting an infection. Many people have sexual intercourse without using protection or without knowing the medical history of past sexual disease of their partner. Here ignorance can really put you in danger. Ignorance is the reason why the war against STDs has not yet been conquered.
It is a very good idea to get yourself tested if you have engaged in unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex. It would get the load off your head or alert your partner if the tests turn out to be positive. It is very common to think, you may not be infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Even using protection does not guarantee you being exempted from getting a STD.
Symptoms of STD
Symptoms of STD vary from person to person and the type of infection contracted. The intensity also differs from mild to severe. Unusual symptoms like pain, discharge or a rash should make you suspect that there could be an STD. Common symptoms of STD in men include:
There would be no signs at all
Pain during urination and ejaculation
Rash on the penis, groin or testicles
Discharge from the penis
Blisters that discharge pus
Less common symptoms like painless ulcers, fever, swelling, sore throat may also indicate the presence of a sexually transmitted disease. Some symptoms are seen within days of being exposed, while others may take weeks. A man may assume that he may not have STD due to the absence of symptoms, but they can still transmit the infection to their sexual partner. Hence, it is better to screen for STD when they have engaged in unprotected sex.
Women should be aware of the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases so that they can treat themselves at the earliest. Common symptoms are:
Burning sensation while urination
Increased frequency in urination
Presence of blood in urine
Abnormal vaginal discharge
Itching in the vaginal area
Pain during sexual intercourse
Tests to diagnose STD
There is no single test to diagnose a sexually transmitted disease. They are specific to each infection. Your doctor or healthcare provider will advise you certain tests based on your symptom history after knowing your sexual practices, mode of protection, history of exposure to partners,medical and drug history.
A physical exam is performed to assess the genital region for presence of eruptions, sores and rash which could lead the doctors to an early diagnosis. For women, a thorough pelvic examination is performed.
A blood or urine sample is collected that can determine the nature of infection. Examples are tests for Chlamydia, genital Herpes, genital warts, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, yeast and Trichomonas. HPV is the most common type of STD seen in women, while chlamydia is the most commonly reported form of STD.
When a diagnosis is made from a physical examination, prompt treatment can be prescribed. Tests may take several weeks to confirm the diagnosis. Certain clinics allow testing to be done anonymously to keep the identity of the patient confidential.
Once diagnosis is made, all modes of sexual contact must be interrupted until symptoms have completely subsided. It is also essential that your partner get tested for STDs as well and begin treatment if necessary, simultaneously.
The only way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases is to practice safe sex by using a condom. It is also necessary that there is clear communication between you and your partner and your doctor about your sexual history.