Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are infections that are primarily spread through sexual contact. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. STDs can affect both men and women, and they can have serious health consequences if left untreated.
Globally, the number of people affected by STDs is quite significant. According to the World Health Organization , more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide, the majority of which are asymptomatic. These infections (STIs) occurred mostly among individuals aged 15-49 years. This includes infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. These figures do not include viral infections like HPV or herpes.
Nigeria has reported a high burden of sexually transmitted infections. According to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) in Nigeria, in 2019, there were approximately 1.9 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the country. This figure includes both curable STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, as well as viral infections like HIV.
There are many different types of STDs, each with its own set of symptoms, transmission methods, and treatments. Some common examples of STDs include:
Chlamydia: A bacterial infection that can affect both men and women. It can cause genital pain, discharge, and inflammation, but it often has no symptoms.
Gonorrhea: Another bacterial infection that can cause similar symptoms to chlamydia. It can also lead to complications if left untreated.
Syphilis: A bacterial infection that progresses in stages and can cause a variety of symptoms, including sores, rashes, and systemic illness if not treated.
Human papillomavirus (HPV): A viral infection that is very common and can lead to genital warts and certain types of cancers, including cervical, anal, and throat cancer.
Herpes: A viral infection that causes recurrent outbreaks of painful blisters. It can be caused by two types of herpes simplex viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): A viral infection that attacks the immune system and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is primarily transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, or from mother to child during childbirth or breastfeeding.
Hepatitis B and C: Viral infections that primarily affect the liver. They can be transmitted sexually, through sharing needles, or from mother to child during childbirth.
Early Signs of Sexually Transmitted Diseases You Should Not Ignore
Recognizing the early signs of STDs is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment. Many STDs may initially present with mild or even no symptoms, making it essential to be aware of potential signs and seek medical attention if you suspect you may have been exposed these are not the fictitious blue waffle disease or HIV that take months for symptoms to manifest. In this section, we will discuss some common early signs of STDs that you should not ignore.
Unusual Discharge: Abnormal genital discharge can be a sign of several STDs. For instance, a yellowish or greenish discharge from the vagina or penis could indicate a bacterial infection like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis. Women may also experience a frothy discharge with a strong odor, which could be a symptom of trichomoniasis.
Pain or Burning Sensation: Pain or a burning sensation during urination can be a sign of an STD. It is commonly associated with infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Both men and women may experience discomfort or pain while passing urine when infected with these bacteria.
Genital Sores or Bumps: The presence of sores, blisters, or ulcers in the genital area is often a symptom of certain STDs, including herpes and syphilis. These sores may be painful, itchy, or tender. It’s important to note that not all STDs cause visible sores, and some infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea may not produce any external signs.
Genital Itching or Irritation: Persistent itching or irritation in the genital area can be a symptom of various STDs. It may be caused by the presence of pubic lice (crabs), scabies, or a fungal infection like candidiasis. These parasites or fungi can be transmitted through sexual contact and cause discomfort.
Abdominal Pain or Pelvic Discomfort: Some STDs, particularly pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), can lead to abdominal pain or discomfort. PID is often caused by untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea and can result in severe complications if left unaddressed. Women experiencing persistent pelvic pain or discomfort should seek medical attention promptly.
Rashes or Skin Lesions: Certain STDs can manifest as rashes or skin lesions on the genitals or other areas of the body. Syphilis, for instance, can cause a painless, round, and firm sore called a chancre. These sores often go unnoticed as they are painless and may heal on their own. However, the infection progresses if left untreated, potentially causing severe health issues.
Recognizing the early signs of sexually transmitted diseases is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or suspect you may have been exposed to an STD, it is vital to seek medical attention. Remember, many STDs can be effectively treated with medications, and early intervention can help prevent complications and reduce the risk of transmission to others. Practicing safe sex, getting regular STD testing, and open communication with your healthcare provider are key to maintaining sexual health.