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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Prevention

Generally, if you confine your sexual activity to a mutually faithful partner there is no need for you to read this article on sexually transmitted diseases because you will never get one.

And, if you are a male over 50, you don't need the information about contraception, unless your wife has not gone through the menopause and may get pregnant, and you do not want a baby.

Most people don't want the following information, but statistics tells us that men and women over 50 and even into the 80s and 90s can be quite sexually active with multiple partners and DO get venereal diseases. Both men and women can get a sexually transmitted disease at any age - nobody is immune. At least 20 sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) have now been identified, and they affect more than 10 million men and women in this country each year.

Sexually transmitted diseases (venereal diseases) frequently have no symptoms, so millions of people won't know they're infected until serious and often permanent damage has occurred.

Many people do have symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) or venereal diseases. If you or your partner has any of the following signs in the genital area, see a doctor right away: abnormal or smelly discharges from the vagina, penis, or rectum; bleeding, blisters, boils, chancres, growths, irritations, itches, pains, pus, rashes, sores, swelling, tenderness, ulcers, or warts.

There are other symptoms of venereal diseases, not caused exclusively by sexual activity, but they are serious and indicate that something is wrong with your health: arthritic pain, bowel problems, chills, coatings of the mouth and throat, constipation, coughs, diarrhea, discolored skin, fatigue, feeling run down, fevers, growths, hair loss, headaches, jaundice, lack of appetite, lightheadedness, mental disorders, menstrual problems, nausea, night sweats, constant or rapid unexplained weight loss, swollen glands, urine changes, vision loss, or vomiting. Again, if you have one of the above symptoms, see your doctor, particularly if you have been sexually active with a partner you aren't sure about.

CHLAMYDIA (kla-mid-ee-uh) - is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease. It strikes between 3 and 4 million Americans each year. If left untreated the infection can spread throughout the reproductive system. Sixty-five percent of infected women have no symptoms. In others, the first symptoms appear within 14 days, and are a watery, white discharge that causes discomfort during urination. Men can have inflammation of the urethra and the epididymis, the long cord behind the testicles that transports sperm. Women may have irregular bleeding and men may develop prostatitis. It's the leading cause of pelvic inflammatory disease in women, and it can lead to male and female sterility.

The treatment of chlamydia is antibiotics--tetracycline, erythromycin, or doxycycline, taken orally. The cure rate is 95% effective; but, we must remember that the disease sometimes has no symptoms and can be passed on without a person knowing that he or she has it.

GONORRHEA  - is caused by the gonococcus, a bacterium that grows and multiplies quickly in moist, warm areas of the body such as the cervix, urinary tract, mouth, or rectum. Two to eight days after infection, a man will get a yellowish discharge from a reddened urethra and experience frequent, painful urination. Women's symptoms may include lower abdominal pain, a whitish vaginal discharge, abnormal uterine bleeding, and painful urination. But 10% to 30% of infected men and 70% to 90% of infected women don't have any symptoms.

Gonorrhea can spread and cause complications. Some infected women will develop pelvic inflammatory disease and inflammation of the fallopian tubes, which can cause ectopic pregnancy and permanent sterility. Sterility also can develop in men, and the infection can extend to the prostate and the rectum.

Doctors blast the disease with a minimum one-time dose of 4.8 million units of penicillin. Ampicillin or amoxicillin are sometimes used. The ingenious gonococci have mutated their chromosomes so that antibiotics do not have as much effect. There is increasing concern about the emergence of penicillin-resistant gonorrhea in this country. Fortunately, spectinomycin or ceftriaxone can be used to treat resistant strains.

Because gonorrhea is highly contagious and yet may cause no symptoms, all men and women who have sexual contact with more than one partner should be tested regularly for the disease. Using condoms during sexual intercourse is very effective in preventing the spread of infection.

SYPHILIA  - is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a spirochete and passed on by direct contact with infectious sores, rashes, or mucous patches. The first symptoms appear from 10 to 90 days (usually 3 weeks) after being infected as a chancre (pronounced "shan-ker"), which is a painless pimple, blister, or sore that usually appears on the penis or around or in the vagina.

If untreated, syphilis may go on to more advanced stages; the full course of the disease can take years and be fatal. Penicillin remains the drug most commonly used to treat syphilis.

GENITAL WARTS (also called venereal warts, or condylomata acuminata)--are caused by a virus related to the virus that causes common skin warts. Genital warts usually first appear as small, hard, painless bumps in the vaginal area, on the penis, or around the anus; if untreated, they may grow and develop a fleshy, cauliflower-like appearance.

Genital warts infect up to 3 million Americans each year. Scientists believe that the virus causing genital warts also causes several types of cancer. Genital warts are generally treated with a topical drug (applied to the skin), or by freezing. If the warts are very large, they may be removed by surgery.

GENITAL HERPES  - is a recurrent viral disease that affects an estimated 30 million Americans. Approximately 500,000 new cases of this incurable infection develop annually. The major symptoms of herpes infection are painful blisters or open sores in the genital area. These may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region.

The herpes sore usually disappears within two to three weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time. The recurring episodes are usually not as severe as the first episode. Genital herpes is now treated with acyclovir (trade name Zovirax), an antiviral drug available by prescription; it helps control the symptoms but does not eliminate the herpes virus from the body.

AIDS  - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome --was first reported in the U.S. in 1981. It is caused by a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection. People who have AIDS are therefore very susceptible to many diseases, called opportunistic infections, and to certain forms of cancer.

The virus is present in body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. It also has been found in saliva and tears. Transmission of the virus primarily occurs by intimate contact with semen during sexual activity and by sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs. The virus is generally fatal.

AIDS may be prevented by using condoms during sexual intercourse (although not 100% effective) with an infected person and by not sharing needles to inject intravenous drugs. The U.S. Public Health Service has a toll-free hotline number for persons with questions about AIDS: 1-800-342-2437.

Prevention and Treatment

The best way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease is to not have sex. No sex, no transmission. Among those who are monogamous, there is no need to refrain from sex. The chances of getting a sexually transmitted disease are slight. If you are not monogamous, experts recommend that you select your partners very carefully, and that you make full use of condoms, spermicides, and diaphragms.

Most sexually transmitted diseases are readily treated, and the earlier a person seeks treatment and warns sex partners about the disease, the less likely that the disease will do irreparable physical damage, be spread to others or, in the case of a woman, be passed on to a newborn baby.

The American Social Health Association (ASHA) provides free information and keeps lists of clinics and private doctors who provide treatment for people with sexually transmitted diseases. ASHA has a national toll-free telephone number, 1-800-227-8922. Callers can get information from the ASHA hotline without leaving their names.

Suggestions for a safe sex life:

Confine sex to a mutually faithful partner.

Be selective when you choose a sex partner. Beware of smooth talkers; have sex only with a partner who will make you feel secure about health concerns; and know the name and phone number of your partner.

Limit your number of sex partners. It is safest to have sex with only one person who is also only having sex with you. Be certain that your partner is mutually faithful, does not use IV drugs, and is not at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

If you do have sex with more than one person or if your partner does, protect yourself. Always use a latex condom along with spermicide to give yourself the highest degree of protection.

Talk with your partner about sex before the heat of passion. Don't let your partner remain silent. Find out about your partner's health and sexual history. Make conversations about health a natural part of your sexual relationship. Again, watch out for the smooth talker.

Keep medically fit. If you have sex with more than one person, or if your partner does, have regular physical checkups and blood tests.

Sex with too much alcohol or mood-altering drugs can be dangerous as it may lessen your ability to make responsible choices.

If you have been exposed to someone with a sexually transmitted disease, go to your doctor, clinic, or health department for testing and treatment. Urge your partner to be treated at the same time. Do not have sex until you and your partner have been tested and are considered disease-free.

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