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SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE MONTH

Causes and Effects of Most Common STDs

April 13, 1998

There are more than 25 diseases that are transmitted sexually. Many have serious and costly consequences. Some of the most common and serious STDs include:

Chlamydia

* Used to Be Called: Non-gonoccocal urethritis.

* Cause: Bacteria.

* Number Affected: About 4 million new cases each year in the United States.

* Infection Rate: Highest among 15- to 19-year-olds, followed by 20- to 24-year-olds.

* At Risk: Everyone, but female teens are more likely to be infected because of immature cervix.

* Found in: Semen and vaginal secretions.

* Affects: Genitals, rectum, eyes and eyelids.

* Passed Through: Unprotected anal and vaginal sex. Oral sex can transmit it to the eyes, but not the throat.

* Symptoms: For women, possible increased vaginal discharge; possible burning sensation with urination; lower abdominal pain; fever or bleeding between periods. For men, white, cloudy or watery discharge from the penis, burning sensation with urination. For both, rectal discharge or pain, inflammation of the eyes. Very often there are no symptoms at all.

* Complications: For women, infection can spread from the cervix into the uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries and abdominal cavity, which can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy or chronic pelvic pain. For men, infection can spread to the testes, which can result in sterility.

Gonorrhea

* Also Called: The clap or the drip.

* Cause: Bacteria.

* Number Affected: At least 800,000 cases of gonorrhea occur each year.

* Infection Rate: Highest among teens age 15 to 19, followed closely by 20- to 24-year-olds. Much higher rates among African Americans.

* At Risk: Everyone, but female teens are more likely to be infected because of immature cervix. Women are more at risk than men.

* Found in: Pus, semen, vaginal secretions.

* Affects: Genitals, rectum, eyes, throat.

* Passed Through: Unprotected anal and vaginal sex. Oral sex can lead to throat infection and eye infection.

* Symptoms: For women, possible increased vaginal discharge; possible burning sensation with urination; lower abdominal pain; fever or bleeding between periods. For men, white, yellow or greenish discharge from the penis--usually thicker and in greater quantity than with chlamydia. For both, rectal discharge, pain or bleeding; redness and discharge from the eye; throat infection. Very often no symptoms at all.

* Complications: Women can get pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy or chronic pelvic pain. Infection can cause vulva to become swollen, red and painful. In men, it can result in sterility and occasionally swelling of the penis. If passed to infants, it may cause blindness.

Syphilis

* Also Called: Bad blood.

* Cause: Bacteria.

* Number Affected: An estimated 101,000 people each year.

* Infection Rates: Highest in 25- to 29-year-olds; 30- to 34-year-olds also have high rates. Higher rates among African Americans.

* Risk: About a 30% chance of contraction after one sexual exposure to a lesion.

* Found in: Blood, sores, mucous membranes.

* Affects: Genital area, mouth, anus, other parts of the body.

* Passed Through: Direct contact with sores, mucous membrane or broken skin, including anal, vaginal and oral sex.

* Symptoms: Chancre sores or painless, rubbery sores with raised edges; rashes on the body or wart-like growths on genital area; round, gray patches in the mouth or throat; patchy hair loss; fever; fatigue; headache; sore throat.

* Complications: Ulcers of the skin, bones and internal tissues; meningitis; seizures; paralysis; blindness; insanity; death.

Genital Warts / Human Papillomavirus

* Also Called: Venereal warts, condyloma or condylomata acuminata.

* Cause: Virus. There are more than 80 known types of HPV, 25 of which affect the genital tract.

* Number Affected: At least 24 million people in the United States.

* Infection Rate: Peak age of onset is 16 to 25.

* At Risk: Everyone.

* Found in: Skin and mucous membranes.

* Affects: Internal and external genital surfaces.

* Passed Through: Skin or mucous contact.

* Symptoms: Fleshy bumps in genital area that can be shaped like tiny cauliflowers or be flat and smooth. Sometimes warts are itchy or painful and may bleed if irritated or rubbed. Very often no symptoms at all.

* Complications: For women, HPV can lead to cervical cancer. For men, HPV is linked in rare instances with penile, urethral and anal cancers.

Genital Herpes

* Cause: Virus.

* Number Affected: At least 30 million people in the United States.

* Infection Rates: Highest among adults. Highest among African Americans.

* Found in: Skin and mucous membranes, may travel into a nerve root.

* Affects: Internal and external skin surfaces--vagina, anus, penis, cervix, mouth.

* Passed through: Direct skin-to-skin, mucous-membrane-to-skin, mucous-membrane-to-mucous-membrane contact.

* Symptoms: Painful blisters or sores around genitals, anus, thighs; urinating may be extremely painful; possible headache, muscle aches, fever, swollen glands. At least 50% of people infected have no symptoms.

* Complications: No long-term damage, just inconvenience or pain of recurring outbreaks.

Hepatitis B

* Cause: Virus.

* Number Affected: About 100,000 new cases a year in the U.S.

* Infection Rates: Seventy percent of new cases occur among people 15 to 39 years old; of those, most are teenagers.

* Found in: Blood, semen, vaginal fluid.

* Passed Through: Unprotected anal and vaginal sex; shared needles, razors, toothbrushes.

* Symptoms: Fever, headache, muscle aches; jaundice; dark urine; extreme fatigue; loss of appetite; abdominal pain.

* Complications: Liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure.

Source: L.A. County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program

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