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Sexually Transmitted Disease Month

You Should Know the ABCs of STDs

April 06, 1998

Question: What are sexually transmitted diseases?

Answer: The term "sexually transmitted diseases," or STDs, represents a group of more than 25 infections transmitted through sexual contact.

Q: How common are STDs?

A: Some STDs are considered to be at epidemic proportions in the United States, with more than 12 million Americans infected each year. At current rates, at least one person in four will contract an STD at some point in his or her life.

Q: What are the most common STDs?

A: Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most common bacterial STDs. The most common viral STDs include herpes simplex virus (HSV); human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts; hepatitis B; and HIV, which causes AIDS. Other common STDs include scabies and pubic lice.

Q: What are the typical symptoms of STDs?

A: Typical STD symptoms for women include unusual vaginal discharge, sores, bumps, pain or itching in or around the vaginal area. Typical symptoms for men include a discharge from the penis, burning during urination, and sores, bumps or redness on or around the penis. It's important to note, however, that many STDs, including chlamydia, herpes and HPV, often produce minimal symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Q: How are STDs transmitted?

A: STDs can be transmitted through oral, anal or vaginal sex. They can be passed from partner to partner even if no visible signs or symptoms are apparent. Many people who transmit an STD to a sexual partner are not aware of their own infection.

Q: Can STDs be treated?

A: Many STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, can be easily diagnosed and treated with antibiotics, especially if caught at an early stage of infection. Herpes, genital warts and HIV are incurable, although there have been significant breakthroughs in treating the symptoms of these STDs and the progression of HIV.

Q: How serious are complications from STDs?

A: If left untreated, STDs can lead to major health problems, such as infertility and reproductive cancers. In women, they may also lead to tubal ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease and serious complications in babies born to infected mothers. Complications from untreated STDs can sometimes occur years after the initial infection.

Q: What are the most critical recent findings about STDs?

A: Genital herpes and genital warts, once thought to be transmitted only when sores or warts were present, can be passed from partner to partner even when no visible signs of infection are present. Another recent finding is that many STDs can increase the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV. Genital sores and inflammation caused by many STDs can provide HIV easy access into the bloodstream. People with chlamydia, gonorrhea, or an active syphilis, herpes or chancroid infection have been shown to be three to five times more likely to contract HIV than those without STDs.

Q: What is the best protection against STDs?

A: The best way to prevent STDs is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have sex only with someone known to be uninfected. Otherwise, latex or polyurethane condoms are highly effective at reducing the risk of STDs. A new condom should be used correctly with each act of vaginal, anal or oral intercourse. Other ways to reduce STD risk include engaging in intimate contact that doesn't involve intercourse.

* For more information about STDs, call the Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program Hotline at (800) 758-0880.

Source: Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program

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