Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
once called venereal diseases, are among the most common infectious
diseases in the United States today. More than 20 STDs have now
been identified, and they affect more than 13 million men and women
in this country each year. The annual comprehensive cost of STDs
in the United States is estimated to be well in excess of $10 billion.
Understanding the basic facts about STDs – the ways in
which they are spread, their common symptoms, and how they can
be treated– is the first step toward prevention. The National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of
the National Institutes of Health, has prepared a series of fact
sheets about STDs to provide this important information. Research
investigators supported by NIAID are looking for better methods
of diagnosis and more effective treatments, as well as for vaccines
and topical microbicides to prevent STDs.
It is important to understand at least five key points
about all STDs in this country today:
- STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic
levels. They are most prevalent among teenagers and young adults.
Nearly two-thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than 25
years of age.
- The incidence of STDs is rising, in part because in the last
few decades, young people have become sexually active earlier
yet are marrying later. In addition, divorce is more common.
The net result is that sexually active people today are more
likely to have multiple sex partners during their lives and
are potentially at risk for developing STDs.
- Most of the time, STDs cause no symptoms, particularly in
women. When and if symptoms develop, they may be confused with
those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact.
Even when an STD causes no symptoms, however, a person who is
infected may be able to pass the disease on to a sex partner.
That is why many doctors recommend periodic testing or screening
for people who have more than one sex partner.
- Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe and
more frequent for women than for men, in part because the frequency
of asymptomatic infection means that many women do not seek
care until serious problems have developed.
:: Some STDs can spread into the uterus
(womb) and fallopian tubes to cause pelvic inflammatory disease
(PID), which in turn is a major cause of both infertility and
ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. The latter can be fatal.
:: STDs in women also may be associated
with cervical cancer. One STD, human papillomavirus infection
(HPV), causes genital warts and cervical and other genital cancers.
:: STDs can be passed from a mother
to her baby before, during, or immediately after birth; some
of these infections of the newborn can be cured easily, but
others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.
- When diagnosed and treated early, many STDs can be treated
effectively. Some infections have become resistant to the drugs
used to treat them and now require newer types of antibiotics.
Experts believe that having STDs other than AIDS increases one's
risk for becoming infected with the AIDS virus.