STD’s – ‘stuff to know’
Some STD’s are caused by viruses,
some are caused by bacteria, and one is even caused by
protozoa, little one-celled animals like amoebas or
paramecia (Ok, way too much science, let’s move on).
Let’s describe each one and tell a little about them.
Probably the best known STD is gonorrhea. It is
caused by bacteria and it is spread by sexual contact.
Gonorrhea can cause an infection of the urethra (tube in
the penis) in guys and of the cervix (the canal leading
from the vagina to the uterus) in girls. Gonorrhea often
has no symptoms, but frequently it causes pus to come
out of the penis or cervix, and it can cause a lot of
discomfort. In both guys and girls, gonorrhea can travel
up into more internal reproductive organs and cause
damage to the tubes in guys that transport sperm and the
tubes in girls that transport the eggs. This means that
gonorrhea can really hurt someone’s chances of having
children later on in life.
Another infection caused by bacteria. This
infection is very much like gonorrhea, but it usually
has fewer symptoms, so it may not get treated, so it
often causes more damage. Both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
can be prevented by abstinence, of course, and by using
condoms every time you have sex.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) (en
HPV is far and away the most common STD. Usually people
with HPV don’t know they have it. When they do know it,
it is usually because warts appear on male and female
genital organs. The sneaky and dangerous thing about HPV
is that it can cause flat warts to appear on a woman’s
cervix (and can lead to cancer of the cervix), and she
may never know it unless she has a test called a pap
smear each year. All girls who are sexually active
should have a yearly pap smear to see if they have HPV
infection. There are some treatments that can help get
rid of the flat warts of HPV, but we don’t yet know how
to get rid of the virus.
Another STD caused by bacteria. Syphilis is a
famous disease that is nowhere as near as common as
gonorrhea or Chlamydia. It can be very serious and
damaging, especially to babies who are born to women who
have syphilis. Syphilis caused much suffering in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is not that
common anymore. Despite that good news, Detroit was
ranked 1st (worst) in the U.S. in 2001, in cities
greater than 100,000, for cases of syphilis. In the
U.S., syphilis cases have increased nearly 20% since
Probably the most famous STD at the beginning of the
21st century is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the
cause of the disease AIDS. HIV may be the worst STD
ever. Although there are drugs that can keep AIDS quiet
for a period of time, there is no cure. Millions of
people worldwide are infected with HIV, and millions of
people have died and are dying from AIDS. 32,000 people
were infected with HIV in the U.S. in 2003. AIDS can be
prevented by abstinence or by using safe-sex practices,
especially using condoms.
One other STD that should be mentioned is a viral STD
called herpes. This STD is caused by a virus just like
the one that causes cold sores on the mouth or lips.
Herpes infection is often recurrent (keeps coming back).
Painful ulcers occur on the vagina or penis. This
infection can also be transmitted to babies when they’re
Detection of STD’s
We are lucky that most STD’s can be
detected fairly easily. The trouble is that many of them
are silent until they have caused a lot of damage. The
way to get around this, and to find them before they do
much harm, is for girls who are sexually active to get
checked each year by having a pelvic examination. STD
tests are part of a pelvic exam. Young women who have
had sex with drug dealers or users, or bisexuals or gay
men ought to be tested for HIV and syphilis, too. These
tests are blood tests. Boys can be tested for STD’s
initially just by having their urine checked. HPV is not
routinely looked for in men because it is almost
impossible to treat.
The STD’s caused by bacteria can
usually be treated with antibiotics, just by one dose by
mouth or by a needle. Viral STD’s are the tough ones.
There aren’t any cures, but there are some medicines,
especially for HIV and herpes, that can keep the
infections from doing much harm, at least for a while.
Preventing STD’s is easy: Don’t have
sex, or if you do, use condoms. Also, know the sexual
history of the person with whom you are having sex.
Learn if they’ve had sex with other people who might
have a STD. If a teen or young adult plans to have sex,
he or she should always have condoms available. Never
assume that your partner will have one on hand. And
learn how to say no when you don’t want to have sex. A
big help in avoiding STD’s is to avoid using alcohol and
drugs. Alcohol and drugs can make someone take bigger
risks than if he or she were sober. STD’s can be avoided
most of the time. But it takes work and responsibility
to do so.
Some key things to remember about STD’s
If you are unable to talk to a
parent about being tested or you're worried about
your parents finding out, testing can be done
without parental consent in the United States. It is
STD’s are the most common
diseases in America next to the common cold and the
1 in 5 Americans are infected
with an STD; 3 million teens are infected.
It is not just a big city
problem; you find them in Branch, Hillsdale and St.
Joseph Counties as well as most all rural areas in
the United States.
STD’s can be contagious even
though you may not have any symptoms
STD’s often Cause chronic pain
and permanent damage
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If you have questions, concerns,
or want to schedule an appointment for a check-up or
test, please call your local health department office
today. Local office phone numbers and clinic schedules
are listed below.