24 February 2000 --
Don't let shyness put you and your family at risk. Here are the facts on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and why it's important to seek treatment early.
A sexually transmitted disease or STD is one which is spread mainly by sexual contact with an infected person. STDs can also be spread:
- by direct contact of broken skin with open sores, blood or discharge
- by receiving contaminated blood, e.g. through blood transfusion, or using contaminated needles in drug abuse
- from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or childbirth.
In Australia, the more common STDs are:
- chlamydia genital infection
- acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
The most dangerous STD is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Signs of STDs
Different STDs are caused by different germs. This can result in a variety of signs of disease. The signs usually occur on or around the sex organs (i.e. penis or vagina). Some common signs of STDs are:
- discharge from the sex organs
- rash around the sex organs
- burning pain during urination.
STDs do not always show signs. This can be dangerous because a person with STD may not know he has the disease and may not seek treatment. If a STD is not treated, the disease may:
- spread from the sex organ to other parts of the body and cause serious complications, even death
- be spread to others through sexual contact.
The signs of gonorrhoea appear between 1-14 days after sexual contact with an infected person. They include:
- pus discharge from the sex organs
- painful burning sensation during urination
Gonorrhoea discharge is infectious. A person with gonorrhoea can infect others through sexual contact. The signs of gonorrhoea may disappear without treatment, but the germs are still present in the body.
Five percent of men and 80 percent of women show no signs, i.e. they look and feel perfectly well although they have the disease. If not treated, gonorrhoea may lead to:
- Infertility. Gonorrhoea may damage the reproductive organs.
- Blindness in the newborn. During childbirth, germs from the infected mother enter the newborn's eyes.
There are three stages of syphilis.
In the first stage, the signs appear 10-90 days after sexual contact with an infected person. A painless sore usually appears at the contact area, e.g. sex organs, lips or tongue.
In the second stage, the signs appear 2-6 months after sexual contact with an infected person. They include:
- white patches in the mouth, throat, and groin or between toes
A syphilis sore is infectious. A person with the first or second stage syphilis can infect others through sexual contact.
The signs of the first and second stage syphilis may disappear without treatment, but the disease is still present. If not treated, the disease may lead to the third stage. In this stage, the signs appear 3-25 years after sexual contact with an infected person. They include:
An infected woman may pass congenital syphilis to her unborn child during pregnancy. The child may die or be born with many defects, e.g. abnormal teeth, abnormal bones and joints, deafness and eye defects.
Chlamydia Genital Infection
The signs appear five days to four weeks after sexual contact with an infected person. They include:
- a yellow-white discharge from the sex organs
- a mild burning sensation during urination.
The signs may disappear without treatment. But without treatment, the disease can lead to infertility. An infected woman may also infect her newborn during childbirth.
The signs of herpes appear about five days after sexual contact with an infected person. They include:
- painful swollen sores on the sex organs
- painful swollen lymph glands at the groin.
Herpes sores heal after 10-12 days but often recur. Treatment relieves pain and discomfort, but cannot prevent recurrence. A woman with herpes may infect her newborn at childbirth causing blindness or mental retardation.
Genital warts appear six weeks to eight months after sexual contact with an infected person. Genital warts:
- are usually soft, pink, cauliflower-like growths on the sex organs
- may also be hard and smooth
- tend to recur after treatment
- increase the risk of genital cancer especially in women.
An infected woman may infect her newborn during childbirth. A person with genital warts can also infect others through sexual contact.
AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV can be spread:
- by sexual contact with a HIV infected person (heterosexual or homosexual)
- through HIV contaminated needles and syringes, as in drug abuse
- through HIV contaminated blood and blood products
- from an infected mother to her child, during pregnancy and childbirth.
HIV is NOT spread through:
- working or going to school with someone infected with HIV
- looking after someone with AIDS.
AIDS in incurable. There is still no cure or vaccine against AIDS.
In the early stages, HIV-infected persons may look or feel well, but they have the disease and can infect others through sexual contact.
After several years
As the body's immune system is gradually weakened, some may develop symptoms like:
All persons infected with HIV can infect other through sexual contact.
- lowered resistance to infections
Within 8-10 years, many develop full-blown AIDS. Signs of AIDS include:
- pneumonia (lung infection)
- Kaposi's sarcoma (cancer of blood vessels)
- widespread tuberculosis (TB).
Patients with full-blown AIDS usually die within 11/2 to 3 years.
Protect yourself from STDs
- Maintain a mutually faithful relationship with an uninfected partner. The more sex partners a person has the greater the risk of getting STDs.
- Avoid sex with casual partners.
- If you do have sex with anyone else, always insist on using a condom with a spermicide from the start to end of sexual intercourse. Condoms cannot guarantee protection, but they can reduce the risk of HIV infection.
- Avoid drug abuse and sharing of needles.
- Know the signs of STDs and discuss them with your sex partner.
- Women should test for any STDs before or during pregnancy.
- Assist in tracing any contact who may be infected.
Treatment of STDs
If you think you may have a STD, see a doctor early. You may go to:
Do not self-medicate. Different STDs need different treatments. Using wrong or insufficient medicine may lead you to think that you are cured when you are actually not.
If you are being treated for a STD:
- complete your medicine as prescribed, then return to your doctor to test if you are cured
- avoid sex until you are cured
- make sure your sex partner is also treated or you will be infected again.
Reprinted with permission from the National Health Education Department, Ministry of Health.
Date reviewed: 12 June 2005