Not a laughing matter

by Mary Turner
HIV/AIDS Health Columnist

Comedians such as Cheech and Chong delighted audiences in the 1970s and 1980s with funny stories about getting various sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). Back in the day, a few curse words and a trip to the “clinic” for some penicillin made everything better.

Even today, jokes about STD’s/STI’s get a laugh out of people. The reality is that STD’s are no laughing matter, especially for people who may already have compromised immune systems. Here’s the lowdown on what these infections/diseases are and the damage they can do if not prevented or treated promptly.

STD’s are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. These infections are typically spread through sexual activity in which blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or other bodily fluids are passed from person to person.

In some people, these pathogens cause no symptoms at all, or mild symptoms for a brief time. Thus, an infected person may be at risk for health issues and for passing the infection on to others unknowingly.

Bacterial infections include gonorrhea, syphilis, chancroids, LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum), mycoplasma genitalium, nongonococcal urethritis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and chlamydia. People sometimes erroneously assume that bacterial infections aren’t really a big deal because they can take antibiotics and cure them.

They are problematic, however, for a few reasons. As mentioned before, these infections don’t always cause definitive signs in the infected person. They have also become more resistant to existing antibiotics because of the widespread use of antibiotics and the fact that people use these inappropriately and for infections that are not bacterial (I have a bad cold, so I need an antibiotic). Antibacterial soaps and cleaning products have also increased resistance to traditional antibiotics.

If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone who may have been infected, get tested and treated immediately. If you have even mild symptoms such as a rash, blisters, painful urination, or a discharge, do not assume that these mean nothing. Get tested and treated.

Viral infections make up the category of STD’s that evoke the most fear in people (with good reason). Just like diamonds, a virus is forever. Even though modern medicine can sometimes suppress the viral load in the body and keep the infection in check, the person must be diligent in maintaining a strict treatment regimen. HIV, hepatitis, HPV, and herpes are all viral infections, and they may not show any symptoms for weeks, months or years after infection.

Prevention (latex condoms) is the absolute best course of action, but it is also important to be tested regularly and to reduce risk factors (number of sexual partners, not sharing razors, toothbrushes, or needles, etc.).

Be aware that there are different strains of viruses that cause these infections. Just because you have one strain doesn’t mean that you can throw abandon to the wind. You can easily contract a different strain of the same virus. These factors make treatment more challenging.

Common parasitic infections include pubic lice, scabies, trichomoniasis, vaginitis, and even some intestinal parasites. While not potentially fatal, parasitic infections are unpleasant, embarrassing, itchy and possibly painful and difficult to cure.

As for lice and scabies, be sure to treat combs, brushes, and clothing to help prevent reinfection by these ugly little suckers.

As always, lower your risks of infection by using latex condoms, limiting the number of people with whom you have sex, get tested frequently and be diligent about paying attention to rashes and other indicators of infection, and ask your partner(s) about their sexual history. If you do become infected, seek treatment immediately and stay on your treatment regimen.

Untreated, these infections can cause scarring, damaged or destroyed organs, blindness, sterility, dementia and death. Those results are not a laughing matter.

Copyright The Gayly – April 2, 2019 @ 10:50 a.m. CDT.