Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that are contracted through intimate sexual contact. Once established, sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis can spread and cause extensive, serious physical damage. It is important to make a doctor's appointment immediately if you suspect that you have contracted-or have been exposed to-such an infection. If it is found that you have been infected, you should abstain from sexual contact until your doctor tells you that you are no longer contagious. You should also inform your sexual partners so that they can be examined and treated also, whether or not they have symptoms.
Although gonorrhoea and syphilis are the most serious of the sexually transmitted diseases, there are a number of others that cause considerable discomfort or embarrassment. Venereal warts, for example, can be acutely painful. Pubic lice cause intense itching.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection, and an extremely contagious one. The symptoms of gonorrhoea usually appear within one to three weeks after infection. In men, these symptoms include a white to yellow-green penile discharge, burning pain while urinating and deep, aching pain or pressure in the genitals. In women, there may be painful and frequent urination
, deep, aching pain in the lower abdomen and, rarely, a vaginal discharge
. Pharyngeal gonorrhoea (in the mouth and throat
) may produce a sore throat rectal gonorrhoea occasionally causes discomfort in the area around the anus and a slight discharge. However, in 10 to 20 percent of men and up to 80 percent of women, there are no perceived symptoms at all.
Untreated, gonorrhoea commonly affects the urethra in men, making urination extremely painful and difficult it may progress to chronic obstruction and infertility
. In women, the disease can attack the fallopian tubes and other pelvic organs (pelvic inflammatory disease
), causing pain, fever and, very likely, infertility. The risk of infertility
increases with each infection: 75 percent of women who have had three infections involving the pelvic organs
are infertile. In both sexes, untreated gonorrhoea may result in arthritis, or in a generalised bacterial infection affecting the heart and nervous system
. If a woman has active gonorrhoea at the time of delivery, her baby may develop permanent blindness
Fortunately, once it is diagnosed, gonorrhoea can be treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics. A diagnosis of gonorrhoea can be made by a microscopic examination of the discharge or a cervical smear
or, more reliably, by a culture that takes two days to incubate. The culture should be repeated one week after treatment.
Syphilis is caused by an organism called a spirochete that is spread through sexual contact. The disease has three stages. First, skin ulcers
(chancres), which are usually painless, appear in the genital area. The chancres may erupt anywhere, 10 to 90 days after infection. Men may see them on the penis
, but in women, they usually form inside the vagina and may easily be missed. These sores heal in a few weeks, leaving little or no scarring. Meanwhile, the spirochetes circulate in the bloodstream and in a few weeks produce the symptoms of the second stage of the disease. The third stage may develop without warning, years later. In this final stage, there is tissue damage in the brain and the nervous system, the heart
. In as many as one-third of untreated individuals, syphilis
may result in death.
If a woman infected with syphilis becomes pregnant or contracts the disease during pregnancy, there is a high risk that her baby will be stillborn or suffer from severe birth defects
Syphilis is most accurately diagnosed by a blood test
. It can be treated successfully with penicillin or other antibiotics. Periodic tests should be done for two years after treatment to make certain that the disease is cured. As is the case with all sexually transmitted diseases, sexual partners should be informed immediately, and examined and treated.
, cauliflower-like and red in colour are caused by a virus and thought to be almost exclusively sexually transmitted. In women, they appear around the vagina and rectum, growing more rapidly when they come in contact with any vaginal discharge
and greatly aggravated by pregnancy
. In men, they appear on the penis and rectal area.
A wart-removing compound may be prescribed, although it is not recommended for use during pregnancy since it can be harmful to the foetus
. The compound should be used with care and applied only to the surface of the warts. About six hours after application, a sitz bath should be taken to remove any excess. Over-the-counter preparations should never be used the genital tissues are too sensitive for such products. Occasionally it is necessary to remove venereal warts by electro-cauterization (burning) or by surgery.
Pubic lice are almost always transmitted sexually. The lice, which can be found attached to the pubic hair, are yellow-gray in colour, becoming dark after they are engorged with blood.
An infestation of pubic
lice causes intense itching in the pubic area as a reaction to the parasites' bites. It can be readily cured with the application of a prescription cream, lotion or shampoo. To prevent re-infestation, the sexual partner or partners should also be treated.
Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis are highly contagious infections. If you are sexually active-other than with a single partner who is also monogamous-you risk exposure to these diseases. Sensible precautions that may be taken include urinating and washing the genitals after intercourse, using condoms and spermicidal vaginal foams, jellies or creams, and being tested frequently for gonorrhoea and syphilis if you have several sexual partners-or if your partner does.
If you suspect that you have a sexual infection visit your doctor immediately. Sexually transmitted diseases
can be cured only with prescribed courses of drug therapy
. Never attempt to treat these diseases yourself. Above all, do not let fear or embarrassment stand in the way of receiving medical care