A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is a disease or infection that is spread from one person to another through sexual contact. Most STDs are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, that are transmitted through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or bodily fluids. STDs can cause problems ranging from mild irritation to severe pain. Left untreated, some STDs can cause illness, cancer, infertility or harm to a fetus during pregnancy
Risk Factors for STDs
STDs may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection that is spread through sexual contact. Individuals who may be more at risk for contacting an STD may include those who:
- Engage in unprotected sex
- Have multiple sexual partners
- Are already infected with an STD
- Abuse drugs or alcohol
- Share needles for drug use or tattoos
In many cases, sexually transmitted diseases have no symptoms, especially in women, so a person may not even know if they have been infected. Periodic testing is recommended for anyone who may be at risk for an STD, including those who have multiple sexual partners, even if they are having protected sex.
Types of STD Testing
STD testing is not part of a standard physical exam or gynecological checkup, so unless an STD infection is suspected by a physician, testing must be specifically requested. The method of testing may vary depending upon the type of STD and it may include the following methods:
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Swab sample from the genitals
- Tissue sample
There are also several at-home test kits available for certain STDs. These tests usually involve the individual collecting a urine sample or a genital swab at home and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Results are usually received within a few days. In some cases, because the sample is taken at home and not in a completely sterile environment, results of these test may not always be reliable. Positive test results from at-home STD tests, should always be confirmed by a doctor.
If an individual tests positive for an STD, a treatment plan should be discussed with and developed by a doctor. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available for most STDS and although many STDs cannot be cured, there is medication available to treat and manage symptoms. Patients infected with a sexually transmitted disease should inform any sexual partners of the infection to make sure they are tested and treated. This reduces the risk of re-infection and spreading the disease to a partner.
STDs are serious infections that can cause lifelong or recurring symptoms and side effects. It is important for individuals to practice safe sex and get tested often.
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