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A Woman’s View: STDs

What every woman should be aware of if you are of a certain age and sexually active: STDs Sexually Transmitted Diseases are a very real and horrifying reality that sexually active woman in the NEast, as well as across the country, face.  In today’s society there are more chances of contracting an STD than ever before.  Regular checkups with your doctor and proper contraceptives can help reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of contracting an STD.  “Despite all my efforts of being careful and the fact that we used a condom, it didn’t matter, Lauren said.  “My boyfriend was a carrier of a disease but didn’t show any signs of it.  On my next visit to my doctor I complained about a problem in ‘that area’ and she informed me I had contracted an STD.  I couldn’t understand until I researched the facts better.” Many women hear the phrase ‘STD’ and understand it carries a certain amount of concerns, along with cautionary measures, but few really know the dangers and longevity of some of the most common STDs today. Many women I spoke with said they have heard of some of the common STDs out there but are not really sure what the signs are and which ones are curable. To help spread the word and gain a better understanding, I have researched some of the common STDs to give our NEast ladies a better idea of what to look out for, what to avoid and possible cures or preventions. The first thing that usually comes to mind when you think STDs, besides the thought that it’ll never happen to me, is HIV. Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease that needs no introduction and is well popularized by activist groups around the world in search of a cure.   HIV infection in humans is now a pandemic. As of January 2006, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization estimate that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized on Dec. 1, 1981. While the virus itself does not ultimately cause death, it does weaken your immune system causing typical non-threatening germs to breed.  A common cold or flu might be enough to cause a person with HIV or AIDS to die, though there are treatments now that help prevent the fatality rate.  HIV/AIDS is transferred through bodily fluids with the exception of saliva.  Research has shown that simply kissing a person, with no mouth sores or wounds, who has the virus should not transfer it.  Blood, urine and sexual excretions are the most common ways of spreading the virus from person to person.  There are not always systoms of HIV other than the depletion of the immune system, and it is possible for the virus to lay dormant in your system for several years.  Even though the virus is dormant it is still possible to be spread from person to person.  Currently there is no cure for this virus. However, advancements in research have been made to extend the longevity of people infected. Gonorrhea, despite its musical sound, is one of the leading causes of female infetility.  Early signs for this disease could include fever, nausea, a discharge from the vagina and buring during urination.  Some women may experience bleeding, but this usually only ocurrs if it is left untreated, which would allow gonorrhea to spread throughout the body.  Treatments usually include antibiotics and should take no more than 10 days.  Gonorrhea of the throat is slightly harder to cure, but with the right treatment and mild cases, should be cleared in no more than 10 days also.  Gonorrhea is transferred by the extcretion of sexual fluids.  You may also become re-infected by the same partner if both are not treated properly to cure the disease. Chlamydia is not often given the recognition it should, even though about 2.3 million Americans are infected by this sexually transmitted bacteria.  Chlamydia is known as the “Silent Epidemic” because in women, it may not cause any symptoms in 75 percent of cases, and can linger for months or years before being discovered.  The best way to discover if you have the disease is to be tested at your routine doctors visit.  If Chlamydia is discovered, it can be treated with antibiotics in most cases and usually takes no more than 10 days.  If left untreated, serious birth defects and infertility can occur.  If the disease progresses long enough some symptoms that may occur include: unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in the abdomen, painful sexual intercourse, fever, painful urination or the urge to urinate more frequently than usual. Though Syphilis is usually not common in people with a low number of sexual partners and is one of the oldest STDs , it is still one of the top STDs in our society today. “I didn’t think this disease existed anymore until my uncle got it,” Ann said.  It’s funny ’cause it can take only one person to give it to you.” Syphilis was dubbed the “Great Imitator” because it was often confused with other diseases.  There are many symptoms for this disease that mirror the flu and other STDs, however, if this disease goes untreated it can affect major organs and bodily systems, including but not limited to, the heart, eyes, aorta, bones and brain.  When caught in its early stage, Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.  With advancements in medicine, the death rate has greatly decreased over the years, even when the disease is unnoticed until an advanced stage. Herpes, which is most commonly identified by its clusters of sores on the outer area of the genitals, is probably the most widely spread incurable STD.  Cold sores of the mouth are often lumped in with this category, but cold sores will not persist in the same manner as the disease. Herpes can cause pain and irritation and is usually red and blistered.  While there is no cure for this disease yet, there are various kinds of medication to treat outbreaks and help aleviate discomfort.  Herpes is easily spread not just through bodily fluids but also by touching the exposed area against the genitals or mouth during an outbreaks.  Even if there is not a current outbreak, it is still possible to give the disease to your partner if proper protection and precaution are not used. HPV is a group of over a 100 related virus and has become almost as common as the flu.  Doctors say that about 50 percent of women will contract Human Papilloma Virus after being sexually active for four or more years.  Eighty percent of women older than 50 will test positive.  In many cases, the virus will clear its self up within two years, but it should be noted that there is no treatment for HPV.  Limiting the number of sexual partners and ensuring your partner has not had numerous sexual partners can help reduce the risk.  There are virtually no signs of the disease being present in your system and HPV is usually discovered through PAP smears at your regular doctor’s visit. There is currently no test to show if a male has the disease.  Almost all (99 percent) of cervical cancers are related to HPV.  Even though not all forms of HPV may turn into cancerous cells, there is a high risk, and many forms of HPV will lay dormant for years until a PAP test becomes questionable.  Young girls under the age of 18 are at a higher risk for contracting the virus than ever before.  A vaccination is administered to help guard against some forms of the HPV virus.  It should be noted that the vaccine will only help before women are exposed to HPV, not afterward. The best protection in an ideal world is abstinence, but condoms can provide the safest barrier for those sexually active even though they are not fool proof.  If possible it is always safe to have your partner tested before engaging in an adult relationship.  Regular checkups and testing for both individuals can help prevent an incurable future problem and ease your worries.  It is always better safe than sorry. “Every girl or woman needs to make her man get tested first it is just the best way,” Tarella said. “If they say no than they weren’t the guy for you.” *Please note that the names in this column have been withheld or changed out of respect for privacy to the individuals who gave quotes or personal information. While this column was meant to be informative, the above information did not come directly from a practicing physician, and in no way is meant to replace the advice or treatment by a doctor. The only way to prevent, treat and discuss an STD is with a doctor.

A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com. See others here. Read other NEastPhilly columns here.

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