S.T.D. is the abbreviation for sexually transmitted diseases. S.T.D. as the name implies, are diseases which are acquired and transmitted predominantly by sexual activity. Sexual activity can be of any kind, but the germs are passed on from the infected to non infected partner. Severity of the disease depends on load of the microbes entering the body and overall health status of the individual.
S.T.Ds are closely linked to HIV/AIDS since both are associated with the same kind of high risk behavior, i.e. sex with multiple partners. Presence of one augments the risk of acquiring another.
That is somebody having a S.T.D. is at higher risk of acquiring HIV. In presence of genital ulcers this risk is increased 5 fold, while in presence of genital discharge, risk of acquiring HIV is 10 times more.
In similar way an immune depressed individual is more susceptible not only to acquire S.T.D. but also the S.T.D. will be in a more severe form and progress rapidly.
Therefore, prevention, identification and management of S.T.Ds have been recognized to be a major step in minimizing the transmission of HIV in the society.
If one considers the factors causing maintenance and circulation of sexually transmitted diseases in the society, ignorance, myths and stigma are the foremost reasons. Many people are not aware of the nature of S.T.D. For them the idea that something as natural as having sex can cause grave illness is incomprehensible.
Having a small ulcer or genital discharge is not regarded by them as serious because, they are ignorant of the fact that it can cause other complications in the body like arthritis, conjunctivitis or even problems related to the heart or brain.
People being ignorant of the infectious cause of the sexually transmitted diseases consider them to be the wrath of the gods for some sinful act. Worse still, is the myth that they can be cured of this suffering by having sex with some virgin. For this reason many young children are abused sexually.
Stigma associated with these diseases makes the individual seek witch doctors or indigenous medicines for cure, instead of going to proper medical care centers. Thus all these factors keep the diseases circulating and increasing in the community.
Common S.T.D.s are syphilis, gonorrhea non gonococcal urethritis, veneral warts, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, e.t.c.
All these diseases cause genital ulcers, sores, discharge, and painful swellings in the groin. The infection can spread to other parts of the body causing systemic complications. For example syphilis can cause damage to the heart, nervous system and eyes over the years.
Gonorrhea can also cause infection of the joints and eyes. Genital herpes can lead to generalized infection.
Apart from the suffering caused, these diseases lead to long term sequel in the body. These are chronic pelvic inflammation causing pain in the lower abdomen, painful urination, chronic secretions from the private parts, and chronic infection of the tubes.
Urethral strictures cause difficulty to pass urine necessitating regular dilatation. Sterility in both men and women is a consequence of S.T.D.
Many of these infections are also passed on from mother to child either in the uterus or during delivery. Thus the innocent child suffers for no fault of his and develops many health related problems with commencement of his life.
Therefore, it is vital to educate people about these diseases to prevent their acquisition or transmission.
High risk group persons should be educated about S.T.Ds so that they can prevent acquiring or transmitting the infection.
These high risk groups are professional sex workers and their clients, men who travel much or stay away from homes for long periods, like lorry drivers, immigrant labour, soldiers, e.t.c.
Adolescents and teenagers are yet another group vulnerable to S.T.D. because of their tendency to experiment with sex and ignorance about the disease.
They should also be screened regularly for S.T.Ds. so that treatment can be started at the earliest. Use of good quality condoms is vital to keep off these illnesses and men should be told about it.
Lastly the stigma attached to S.T.Ds. needs to be removed from the minds of people. They are diseases like any other. If people can understand this, then more people will come forward to get tested and treated in time. This will help in reducing the burden of S.T.Ds. and thus HIV in society.
The author is a Specialist in Internal Medicine.
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