Understanding an STD
It might feel awkward to talk about, but don’t be ashamed—your sexual health is an important part of your overall well-being. If you are sexually active, it’s important to stay aware and stay smart to protect yourself from STDs (also known as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.)
STDs are diseases that are spread by having sexual contact with an infected person. Some STDs show little or no symptoms and can be treated with an antibiotic, while others cannot be treated and may even be deadly.
There are many different STDs, but here are the 7 most common and their signs and symptoms:
Chlamydia is primarily spread by vaginal/anal sex, but you are not off the hook if you opt for oral sex instead, as it’s transferred this way as well. As the most commonly reported STD in the country, safer sex measures are a good preventive practice but don’t completely protect you from Chlamydia. Not everyone with chlamydia is symptomatic, but signs you are suffering include an unusual genital discharge or painful urination (both for men and women). This infection is usually easily treated with commonly available antibiotics, but there is increasing antibiotic resistance developing in most communities. Treatment for Gonorrhea infection at the same time is often recommended. Recently infected patients would benefit from repeat testing 3-6 months after treatment.
Gonorrhea, like the aforementioned chlamydia, is also caused by bacteria and is treated with antibiotics. Many people who contract chlamydia also get gonorrhea—the “bonus” gift you never wanted. As with Chlamydia, asymptomatic infection is common especially in women, however, when discharge is present it is often more copious by comparison. In addition to genital discharge, symptoms can also appear in the throat and anus, and men may also experience testicular pain. An untreated infection can lead to infertility. Get tested, get treated, and say goodbye to gonorrhea for good.
Syphilis is more severe (or at least it can be if not nipped in the bud early) than chlamydia and gonorrhea. It’s a 3-stage STD that gets worse as it progresses, and it can take up to three months before any signs are evident. So, even if you’ve been abstinent for a while, it doesn’t mean you’re home free. The main symptom of early syphilis is a single painless genital ulcer or sore. What starts as a painless sore can ultimately lead to organ and nerve damage…it can even wreak havoc on the brain if untreated. Don’t ignore any lump, bump, or especially a painless sore “down below.” While it may be nothing more than an ingrown hair or a pimple, it could be the first stage of syphilis. Get it checked out and start a round of antibiotics. The sooner you stop this STD from festering, the more encouraging the outcome.
Herpes is a viral infection and can never be cured—at least not at the moment with today’s modern medicine. But you can take meds to manage the symptoms, although outbreaks may still pop up throughout your lifetime. What kind of outbreaks? Painful blisters around (and inside) the penis, vagina, and anus. Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2, a virus, which is different than HSV-1 (think cold sores around your mouth). Condom use is important to prevent transmission of the infection even when asymptomatic since it can be also spread when there are no sores. It’s advised to refrain from sex during an outbreak because of the high risk of transmission of the infection.
Trichomoniasis is the most common non-viral STD in the world and the idea of a parasite in one’s private parts is enough to avoid sex altogether. But even that won’t stop most people from partaking in lovemaking, so trichomoniasis ultimately gets passed along. Women are at greater risk than men from contracting this STD, which is transmitted by genital contact. Most people remain symptom-free, while some experience soreness, itching, and burning. A foul-smelling discharge may also be expelled. Luckily, antibiotics can clear up trichomoniasis, putting those parasites in their place.
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
You’ve likely been infected with HPV because it is the most common STD in the world. If not, and you’re sexually active, you’re at risk. More than 14 million new cases are reported in the U.S every year. Nearly every person who is sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV during his or her lifetime. More than 14 million new cases are reported in the U.S every year. How is this possible? Since there are 200+ strains of HPV, it’s rampant and easy to contract. Often, there are no symptoms to speak of, and most HPV infections will heal spontaneously within about a year. But some types are more troublesome, causing conditions ranging from genital warts to cancer. In fact, most invasive cervical cancer is linked to HPV infection and to an increased risk of HIV infection. HPV can be contracted via vaginal/anal sex, oral sex, and even skin-to-skin touch, so condom use is a very important means of reducing the likelihood of spreading the infection – although it may not completely protect you. Talk to your primary healthcare provider about the available vaccine and how you can best protect yourself.
The prognosis for HIV has changed dramatically in the past few decades, but HIV can still result in full-blown AIDS. The infection is transmitted through vaginal and anal sex, so using protection keeps everyone safer. Essentially, HIV weakens the immune system, creating greater susceptibility to infections and certain cancers. Early signs of infection could include aches, fatigue, and weight loss, but some people may not notice anything significant and the disease will progress without treatment. That said, HIV is now far more manageable with medications – thanks to significant advancements in treatment protocols as a result of research over the past two decades. That’s why getting tested regularly is essential.
If you test negative, meaning you haven’t been exposed to HIV, you may wish to pursue treatment that helps prevent getting HIV in the future. The treatment is called PrEP, which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. If you’ve seen any TV ads on this topic, you’ve probably heard of both PrEP and a drug called Truvada. Your vybe care team can help you begin this regimen by performing the necessary tests prior to providing the appropriate prescription. We will also refer you to a primary care physician for ongoing treatment and monitoring. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health offers resources, including a search function to locate other PrEP providers and/or PCPs.
How to prevent contracting an STD
If you want to avoid that “uh oh” feeling, there are also many ways to protect yourself from STIs. These include:
- Avoiding sex with anyone who has genital sores, a rash, discharge, or other symptoms
- Always use latex condoms during sex, and use a water-based lubricant
- Washing before and after intercourse
- Avoiding sharing towels and underclothing
- If you are having sex without condoms, it is safe only if you and your partner are only having sex with one another, and it’s been at least six months since you both tested negative for STIs.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, or you’re just not feeling sure about your sexual health, stop into a vybe urgent care today. All of our urgent care locations offer STI testing to give you peace of mind about a diagnosis or treatment plan.