A stroll through the garden of infections

CDC microbiologist developing a method for the detection of HIV. Photo by James Gathany/CDC.

by Mary Turner
HIV/ADS Health Columnist

Historically, STDs have been the basis for all kinds of jokes, possibly because most people entertain the myth that these diseases cause some itch and discomfort, but nothing serious. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being informed about these nasty little infections will help you avoid them, and avoid spreading them.

In honor of STD Awareness Month, we’re going to take a stroll through the garden of infections and learn about their causes, symptoms, and cures or treatments. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can affect people of all ages. Depending on the cause of the infection, some of these STDs are curable if caught early enough. Others can be treated to lessen the symptoms, but they never go away.

However, if left untreated, some of these diseases can take quite a toll on the human body by causing scarring, organ failure, disfigurement, or even death. You usually can’t tell by looking at your prospective partner whether he/she is infected, and it may even be difficult to recognize an infection in yourself.

Some of these diseases have few symptoms or the symptoms appear briefly and then go away. Sometimes, males and females experience different symptoms. If you are sexually active or even if you engage only in “heavy petting” with skin to skin contact, it is important to be aware of the potential for infection and to get tested so that you know your status.

Bacterial infections - chlamydia, gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, and syphilis - are curable if detected and treated early. Antibiotics are used to target the specific bacterium involved in each infection. It is especially important to identify syphilis early because it becomes incurable in its later stages and it can affect all organ systems in the body, including the heart, skin, and brain.

Viral infections - genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, HIV, and Zika - can be treated, but the virus will remain in your body forever and may occasionally flare up and cause outbreaks.

Condoms provide an effective barrier for all of the above infections except for HPV, which can be spread by skin to skin contact. Always use latex condoms that fit appropriately as viruses are tiny little things that can pass through the pores in natural skin condoms. If used correctly (and every time) condoms are highly effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

 However, you have to put the condom on before you begin to travel down the road to sex. One mistake that people make is waiting too long before putting on the condom, or putting it on or taking it off incorrectly.

MTV publishes a website (www.itsyoursexlife.com/stds-testing-gyt/article/STDs-and-Testing-The-Rea...) that gives you all kinds of statistics about STD infections, how to use condoms effectively, how to talk to your partner about STDs, and so forth.

STDs can be transmitted via any kind of sexual activity (vaginal, oral, anal). There are condoms designed for each specific kind of sex and condoms come in a variety of sizes. I understand that some guys are sensitive about penis size, but it’s better to wear a condom that fits than to run the risk of infection. Besides, if the condom is right for you, your sexual experience will feel better for you and your partner. In a pinch, if you don’t have a condom, grab some plastic wrap from the kitchen. Just make sure it isn’t the porous kind designed for use in the microwave.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also provide a wealth of information about STD prevention and treatment on their website (www.cdc.gov/std/sam/). Currently, the CDC is promoting its GYT (Get Yourself Tested) campaign to raise awareness and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

A significant number of people will contract at least one STD over their lifetime, and many people don’t know when they are infected. The only way to know for sure is to get tested. You can’t assume you’ve been tested just because you’ve seen a doctor. You have to request the specific tests for STDs.

These tests can be expensive even if you have insurance. Some of the local agencies that provide free or low cost STD testing in the OKC metro include Other Options, Oklahoma City/County Health Department, the Latino Center, Planned Parenthood, Variety Care, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health ((405) 271-5600 or (800) 522-0203).


The Gayly- 4/19/2016 @ 9:46 AM CDT