Approximately one in every six Canadians has or has had an STD. Many people can be carrying one and infecting their parner(s) because they don't know the sypmtoms or haven't been tested.
WHAT ARE STDS?
Also known as venereal diseases, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are acquired through sexual contact-vaginal, oral or anal-with an infected person. They are passed to a sexual partner through semen, vaginal fluids and blood, or by direct contact with infections on the skin. STDs afflict the lives of sexually active men and women of all ages, teens, children, homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, and people of all races and colors. Approximately one in six adults in Canada has an STD.
If left untreated, many STDs pose significant health risks, leading to problems such as infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and diseases in newborns. In some cases, untreated STDs can lead to cancers, blindness and even death. If you have an STD, it is important that you be treated by your doctor or an STD clinic right away. Most STDs need some form of treatment to be cured. There are several STDs that cannot be cured at the present time, although they can and should be treated. Incurable STDs include herpes, genital warts, chronic hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS.
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF STDS?
Do not assume that just because you have no symptoms, you do not have an STD infection. Many people with STDs have no symptoms, and they look and feel healthy. For this reason, you should seek testing from your doctor if you have had sex with someone who you think may have an STD infection.
It's important to know what symptoms to look for in yourself and others (since anyone can have an STD). Typically, symptoms affect the genital area. They may appear and disappear-or they may not show up for a period of weeks or even months. Even if the symptoms go away, you can still infect other people if you have sex with them. Likewise, they can infect you. Common symptoms of STDs include:
- redness or swelling in or around the genital area or throat
- blisters, sores, or bumps near the genitals, anal area, or mouth
- burning or pain in the genital area, especially during urination
- any burning or itching in or around the vaginal area
- unusual vaginal bleeding (not during the menses), unusual vaginal discharge or odor
- pain in the pelvic area or vagina during sexual intercourse
- any discharge from the penis
- pain in the testicles
HOW ARE STDS DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?
How an STD is treated depends upon which particular STD you have. Your health care provider, Planned Parenthood clinic or STD clinic will provide a private and safe examination and whatever testing they think is necessary to identify the source of infection. Usually this is a very simple process. Some STDs can be diagnosed with a urine specimen or by taking a sample of vaginal secretions and looking at it under a microscope. Other STDs are diagnosed through blood samples or by taking a sample of fluid from sores or blisters. Most STDs can be cured with antibiotics which are taken orally. Even if you have an STD that cannot be cured such as herpes, genital warts, chronic hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS, you still need to be treated. Medications for herpes can help reduce the number and severity of outbreaks. Genital warts can be surgically removed, although the virus that causes them remains active on the skin.
What should I do if I'm diagnosed with an STD?
- The first thing you need to do is contact anyone you may have infected so that they can get tested. If you are unsure of how to go about doing this, your local health department should be able to help.
- Take all of your medicine and see your health care provider as prescribed, even if your symptoms have disappeared before your treatment schedule is over.
- Do not have sex while being treated.
HOW ARE STDS PREVENTED?
The most certain ways to avoid contacting an STD are abstaining from sexual relations (including vaginal, oral or anal sex) or having sex with only one partner-someone who only has sex with you. Also, keep in mind that some STDs, such as HIV/AIDS can be spread through the sharing of intravenous drug needles.
In general, your risk of acquiring an STD increases with the number of people with whom you have sex . However, even if you are having sex with only one person, your risk increases if he or she has sex with other people, something which you may or may not know. Keep in mind too that some people who know they have an STD won't tell you. If you or your partner are having sex with more than one person, or if you are unsure of your partner's sexual history, the following steps can reduce your risk of getting STDs:
- Use condoms correctly every time you have vaginal, oral and anal sex. Latex condoms offer the best protection against HIV, which is a small enough virus to penetrate other condoms.
- Spermicides used in birth control foam, cream or jelly can kill certain STDs. They can offer some extra protection if used along with condoms.
- If you use a lubricant along with a latex condom, make sure it's water-based (such as K-Y Jelly). Oil-based lubricants such as Vaseline damage latex.
- If you have more than one sexual partner, make sure you are examined for STDs by your health care provider several times per year, even if you have no symptoms.