What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases are diseases that can be passed from person to person through sexual contact. Depending on the STD, sexual contact that causes transmission can include penis-vagina penetration, oral sex, anal sex. Occasionally, STDs can be transmitted in non-sexual ways, such as through casual contact, by sharing needles, or from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery.

There are many different kinds of STDs: some are easily cured with simple drugs, some take multiple kinds of treatments and drugs to cure, and some can only be treated and not cured. It is important to understand STDs to be able to protect yourself from future infection, to be able to recognize the symptoms of STDs, and to be able to seek treatment if you think you might have an STD.

Are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) different from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Sometimes the terms STI and STD are used interchangeably. This can be confusing and not always accurate, so it helps first to understand the difference between infection and disease. Infection simply means that a germ – virus, bacteria, or parasite – that can cause disease or sickness is present inside a person’s body. An infected person does not necessarily have any symptoms or signs that the virus or bacteria is actually hurting their body (they do not necessarily feel sick). A disease means that the infection is actually causing the infected person to feel sick, or to notice something is wrong. For this reason, the term STI – which refers to infection with any germ that can cause an STD, even if the infected person has no symptoms – is a much broader term than STD.

The term STD refers only to infections that are causing symptoms or problems. Because most of the time, people don’t know they are infected with an STI until they start showing symptoms of disease,  even though the term STI is also appropriate in many cases.

Depending on the STI, a person may or may not still be able to spread the infection if no signs of disease are present. For example, a person is much more likely to spread herpes infection when blisters are present (STD) than when they are absent (STI). However, a person can spread HIV infection (STI) at any time, even if they haven’t developed symptoms of AIDS (STD).

What are symptoms of  STDs?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diseases caused by germs that are passed from one person to another during sex.

You may have an STD if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • pus or smelly fluids coming out of the penis or vagina
  • blisters, sores or warts on the penis or vagina
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • pain during sex
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • unusual swelling near the penis or vagina
  • itching on or near your genitals

If you think you have an STD, you should go to a doctor, clinic or hospital for treatment. STDs can be cured with pills. Sometimes an injection is given. If you have an STD, your healthworker will advise you to:

  • finish the course of treatment that you are given
  • advise your sexual partner(s) to go for treatment
  • use condoms every time you have sex

Untreated STDs can result in serious illness and infertility. They also lead to easier infection with HIV. STDs cause sores and also weaken the skin of the penis or vagina, making it easier for HIV to enter the body. STD infection can also be passed on to an unborn or newborn baby by an infected mother.


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