How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases

If used properly, condoms can decrease the risk of Chlamydia. Check out our staying healthy pictures.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You might not want to talk about them, but infections that occur in the genital area can be dangerous. It's probably been awhile since you last had health class, but you need to shake off your embarrassment to keep your private parts working their best. In this article, you'll find:

  • Preventing Chlamydia An estimated 2.8 million Americans are infected each year with the STD Chlamydia. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the people who are most at risk include those with multiple sex partners and sexually active teenage girls. Learn more about Chlamydia in this section, including what steps you can take to prevent this STD.
  • Preventing Genital Herpes Genital herpes is typically caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Although this sexually transmitted disease can be treated with antiviral, suppressive medications to shorten and prevent outbreaks, there is no actual cure for genital herpes. Find out how to avoid contracting genital herpes here.
  • Preventing Gonorrhea The symptoms of gonorrhea are different for men and women, although if left untreated, this STD can cause infertility in both sexes. Fortunately, most strains of this bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. Learn more about the common symptoms and what you can do to stay away from gonorrhea on this page.
  • Preventing Human Papillomavirus The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that at least half of all sexually active men and women will have an Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. That's quite a statistic! Gather all the facts about HPV, including measures you can take to defend yourself against this STD, in this section.
  • Preventing Syphilis If not treated properly, the STD syphilis can ultimately be a fatal disease. There are four stages of this infection, so it's important to know what to look out for in the early stages to prevent serious problems. You should also learn how to prevent syphilis by reading the suggestions on this page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Chlamydia

The symptoms of Chlamydia are different in men and women. Find out what they are, as well as what you can do to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, in the helpful information that follows.

Chlamydia Basics

The bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which can be spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, causes Chlamydia.

Chlamydia affects men and women differently. Women usually experience mild symptoms, including vaginal discharge, painful urination or intercourse, lower abdominal pain, fever, and bleeding between periods. However, untreated Chlamydia can cause more serious complications in women, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID -- an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes that can lead to infertility) and chronic pain.

Symptoms in men include painful urination, penile discharge, a burning or itching sensation at the opening of the penis, and testicular pain, but other side effects are rare. The Chlamydia bacteria can cause eye infections in both men and women.

Mothers can pass the bacteria to their infants during childbirth, creating a risk for pneumonia and eye infections in their newborns. Fortunately, a few doses of antibiotics can cure Chlamydia.

In rare instances, Reiter's syndrome, a disease characterized by arthritis and inflammation of the eyes and urethra, can occur as a reaction to a Chlamydia infection. Reiter's syndrome can cause lesions or swelling of the urinary tract and joints.

Who's at Risk for Chlamydia

Anyone who is sexually active can contract Chlamydia, and many people do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 2.8 million Americans are infected each year. According to the CDC, certain populations, including those with multiple sex partners and sexually active teenage girls, are more at risk. Young women are more prone to the infection because at a young age, the opening to the uterus, called the cervix, is not fully matured.

Defensive Measures Against Chlamydia

The best way to avoid Chlamydia or any sexually transmitted disease is to not have sex. But if you are sexually active, keep relations within the bounds of a long-term, monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, or at least limit the number of people with whom you have sex. Latex condoms, if used correctly, can reduce the risk of a Chlamydia infection.

Sexually active women in their mid-20s or younger should be screened for the disease each year. Testing is also recommended for pregnant women of any age, as well as older women who have multiple sexual partners or a new partner who has not been tested.

The symptoms associated with genital herpes can be quite painful. Learn how to prevent this uncomfortable sexually transmitted disease on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Genital Herpes

Genital herpes can be spread through sexual intercourse.
Genital herpes can be spread through sexual intercourse.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

After the primary episode of genital herpes, symptoms may be so mild they go unnoticed. It's important to know what to look out for and how to prevent the spread of genital herpes. Learn more here.

Genital Herpes Basics

Genital herpes is primarily an infection of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) can also cause genital herpes, but this is not as common.

The virus that causes genital herpes is spread through sexual contact and enters the body through small openings in the skin or mucous membranes. The virus doesn't survive for very long once it's outside the body, so it's highly unlikely you can get infected by touching a toilet seat or other common surface.

The first (primary) episode of genital herpes triggers pain and itching on the skin around the genital area, internally, and sometimes on the buttocks. Soon after, red bumps form and then develop into leaking blisters. Some people with genital herpes have flulike symptoms, including fever. Although the sores typically heal on their own within a month, the virus lurks in the body until it reactivates to cause future (although less severe) outbreaks.

Genital herpes may not cause any symptoms, or the signs might be so mild they're unnoticed. The primary outbreak usually occurs about two weeks after the virus is transmitted.

Treatment during primary infection with genital herpes will decrease the recovery time but does not change the possibility of reactivation. HSV-1, if occurring genitally, is much less likely to cause reactivations than is HSV-2.

The virus can be passed to someone else during any type of sex, including oral. Although cases are rare, newborns are at risk for contracting genital herpes during vaginal delivery if the mother has an active infection at the time of the birth. This can cause blindness, meningitis, seizures, brain damage, and even death in the baby.

Genital herpes can be treated with antiviral, suppressive medications to shorten and prevent outbreaks. These medications can also reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of transmission during sex. There is no cure for genital herpes.

Who's at Risk for Genital Herpes

Anyone who has sex with an infected person is at risk for contracting genital herpes, but women have a slightly higher risk because the disease is easier to pass from men to women than from women to men.

Defensive Measures Against Genital Herpes

Abstaining from sex is the most effective way to prevent genital herpes. If you are sexually active, having a long-term, monogamous partner who is uninfected is best. Using latex condoms can help prevent genital herpes.

All pregnant women should be screened for genital herpes in order to prevent its transmission to babies during childbirth. It is also recommended that women receive an annual Papanicolaou (Pap) smear to check for this and other infections.

Anyone who is sexually active is susceptible to gonorrhea. Learn how to prevent this STD on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, or "The Clap," can be detrimental if left untreated, causing infertility in both men and women. Find out more information about gonorrhea here.

Gonorrhea Basics

The Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium causes gonorrhea. A case of gonorrhea occurs when N. gonorrhoeae bacteria are spread to and grow and multiply in warm, wet conditions, such as a woman's reproductive tract and urethra or a man's urethra, as well as the anus, mouth, throat, and eyes. Gonorrhea spreads from person to person during vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact.

Symptoms in women are often mistaken for those of a bladder infection but can progress to vaginal discharge and vaginal bleeding between periods. Men often have no indications of gonorrhea at all, or they might experience a prominent white or yellow discharge from the penis or pain during urination.

If gonorrhea remains untreated, women can develop PID and become infertile, and men are at risk for epididymitis, a painful testicular condition that also can lead to infertility. Both men and women can experience painful infections in the throat and rectum.

The condition can be more serious or even life threatening if the infection spreads to the joints (gonococcal arthritis) or the heart valves (gonococcal endocarditis).

A variety of antibiotics can cure gonorrhea, but there are an increasing number of antibiotic-resistant strains. As with most sexually transmitted infections, newborns can pick up gonorrhea during childbirth and develop eye infections.

Who's at Risk for Gonorrhea

Any person who is sexually active is at risk for gonorrhea. The CDC estimates at least 700,000 people develop new cases of gonorrhea in the United States annually. Teenagers, young adults, and African-Americans contract it the most.

Defensive Measures Against Gonorrhea

The best way to prevent gonorrhea is to abstain from sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral), but the bacterium can also be transmitted when infected discharges or secretions get on hands and then the hands come into contact with mucous membranes. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to cover the penis with a latex condom from the moment sexual foreplay begins.

Remember, you won't be able to tell if someone has gonorrhea just by looking because there might not be any visible symptoms. Testing and open and honest communication are the only ways to know for certain if someone is disease-free.

Human Papillomavirus can cause genital warts, but many people carry this disease without showing any symptoms. Find out more in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Human Papillomavirus

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The CDC states that at least half of all sexually active women and men will have HPV at some point in their lives.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The CDC states that at least half of all sexually active women and men will have HPV at some point in their lives.

Considering Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, it's important to know all the facts about this STD. Learn more in the helpful information that follows.

Human Papillomavirus Basics

The human papillomavirus (HPV) belongs to a family of more than 100 different virus strains, some of which cause warts on toes or fingers. Of these HPV types, about 30 viruses are spread through sexual contact and cause infections in the genital area, including genital warts (condyloma).

According to the CDC, about 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, and at least half of all sexually active men and women will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives. About 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year.

The vast majority of people will never know they are infected because the HPV infection will pass without causing any symptoms. A small group of people will develop genital warts, and an even smaller percentage will see HPV infection lead to precancerous tissue (dysplasia).

Although cases are rare, a pregnant woman can pass HPV to her baby during childbirth. The infant then is at risk for developing warts in the voice box or throat.

Everything in the genital area, from the skin of the penis and the anus to the vulva and the cervix, are fair game when it comes to HPV. The warts HPV causes are typically painless and appear as soft, raised, and sometimes cauliflower-shape lumps in the genital area. The discovery of precancerous tissue, however, signals a potentially deadly risk. Either way, the warts or questionable tissue should be removed.

There is a strong link between the dysplasia HPV causes and cervical cancer, making HPV infection of extreme importance for women. However, the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are not the ones that are associated with cancer so the absence of warts is not a "clean bill of health" when it comes to cervical or uterine cancer.

Although there is no cure for HPV, there is a new preventive vaccine. If you already have an HPV infection, a physician or surgeon should treat or remove infected tissue, and then you'll just have to wait for the infection to go away on its own.

Who's at Risk for HPV

Because they don't always use condoms, teenagers and young adults are most at risk, as are people who have multiple sexual partners. According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

Defensive Measures Against HPV

In June 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine believed to prevent HPV-related cervical cancer, precancerous genital lesions, and genital warts. The vaccine, called Gardasil, is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and is given as three injections during a six-month period.

The vaccine only works on certain strains of HPV and is not effective in preventing cervical cancer in women who are already infected by HPV.

Women should talk with their healthcare providers about this preventive vaccine but should not abandon other protective measures. One strategy is to either abstain from sexual contact altogether or form a monogamous sexual relationship with someone who is not infected with HPV. Although HPV infection can occur even if a condom is used, the good news is that condom use has been linked with a lower rate of cervical cancer.

You can take other steps to avoid contracting HPV, or at least cut your risk of developing HPV-related complications. These include:

  • Put it out. If you smoke and become infected with HPV, your chance of developing dysplasia is significantly higher. Plus, nicotine is believed to increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer.
  • Go drug-free. Using recreational drugs and drinking alcoholic beverages have been known to suppress the immune system; stay away from both to increase your chances of avoiding HPV.

Syphilis is another sexually transmitted disease that has symptoms that are easy to miss, especially in the early stages of the disease. Learn more about syphilis in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Syphilis

Syphilis has four different stages, and the early stages have symptoms that are often easy to miss. Learn more about syphilis here.

Syphilis Basics

Syphilis is an infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Although syphilis is curable in its early stages with antibiotics, the disease's oft-silent symptoms mimic a number of other less-troubling diseases and can progress untreated for decades until damage becomes irreversible.

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore -- bacteria invade through skin abrasions or mucous membranes in the mouth or genital area. You cannot get syphilis from a toilet seat, towel, doorknob, or any other shared item.

According to the National Institutes of Health, syphilis typically has four stages, and the early symptoms are easy to miss. About two to three weeks after exposure to T. pallidum, an ulcer crops up at the very place where the bacterium entered the body. This painless, small, round, and firm ulcer is called a chancre (pronounced "shanker") and appears outside or inside the body. It goes away on its own in about three to six weeks.

About two to three months after exposure, the second phase begins with a nonitchy skin rash on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or other areas of the body. Symptoms mimic a flulike illness and include swollen lymph glands, a sore throat, fatigue, and headaches. Other signs may include weight loss, hair loss, aching joints, and lesions in the mouth or genital area.

The third phase occurs months after exposure. There usually are not visible symptoms during this latent stage, but the infection can be diagnosed with blood tests.

The last syphilis phase can be deadly. At the least, syphilis bacteria cause irreversible damage to the brain, eyes, heart, nervous system, bones, joints, and other parts of the body. The damage can result in mental illness, blindness, deafness, heart disease, brain damage, or spinal cord damage. All of this can occur two to three decades after that first small ulcer seemed to disappear on its own.

Who's at Risk for Syphilis

Anyone who is sexually active and having unprotected sex is at risk for contracting syphilis, but young adults have a higher syphilis rate. In rare cases, the infection also can be passed from mother to infant through the placenta during pregnancy, causing a disease known as congenital syphilis.

Defensive Measures Against Syphilis

If you are sexually active, then having mutually monogamous sex with an uninfected partner is the best way to prevent syphilis. Remember, syphilis can be transmitted even when people do not have visible signs of the disease. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Know your risk. If you are engaging in risky sexual behaviors, such as having vaginal, oral, or anal sex with multiple partners or having unprotected sex, you should be tested on a regular basis for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Beware the bump. If you have a bothersome bump or a suspicious sore, go straight to your physician. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to attack syphilis.
  • Talk about it. Have open and honest communication with your sexual partner and talk about any history of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Keep it covered. Although latex condoms are not foolproof, they help reduce risk. But according to the CDC, condoms lubricated with spermicides are no more effective than other lubricated condoms in protecting against the transmission of STDs.
  • Protect your pregnancy. All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis to prevent congenital syphilis. Syphilis can cause miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, or death of newborn babies. Infants who contract congenital syphilis can have deformities, developmental delays, or seizures. The damage caused by syphilis can continue unseen in infants as they grow and lead to the problems of late-stage syphilis, including damage to bones, teeth, eyes, ears, and the brain.

As you can see, sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented, if you have all the facts and know how to protect yourself. Read up on the symptoms of STDs and be sure to always protect yourself if you are not in a committed, sexually monogamous relationship.

Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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