Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are diseases or infections transmitted to healthy males or females due to sexual intercourse with infected persons.
The sexually transmitted diseases are otherwise known as veneral diseases (VD) or reproductive tract infections (RTI).
Most common STDs are gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydiasis, genital warts, trichomoniasis, hepatitis- B and AIDs. Except for HIV infections, hepatitis B and genital herpes, other STDs are completely curable if detected early and treated properly. Infections like hepatitis-B and HIV are not only transmitted sexually but also by sharing of injection needles with infected persons, blood transfusion or from infected mother to foetus.
Early symptoms of STDs are itching, fluid discharge, and slight pain swellings in genital regions. Infected females usually do not show any symptoms for a long time and therefore remain undetected. This can lead to severe complications later which include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), abortions, still births, ectopic pregnancies, infertility or even cancer of the reproductive tract.
Under the reproductive health care programmes, prevention, early detection and cure of STDs are given priority. Though all persons are vulnerable to these infections, their incidences are reported to be very high among persons in the age group of 15 to 24 years.
STDs can be prevented by taking following precautions:
1. Sex should be avoided with unknown partners or multiple partners.
2. During sexual intercourse, condoms should be used.
3. In case of doubt, one should go to a qualified doctor for early detection and proper treatment.
Types of STDs:
1. Bacterial STDs:
The following three types are common:
The causative pathogen is Treponema pallidium. The first stage of the disease has symptoms like infections and painless ulcers on the genitals, swelling of lymph glands. In the second stage there are skin lesions, rashes, hair loss, swollen joints etc. In the later stage, chronic ulcers appear on palate, nose or lower leg.
There can be paralysis, brain damage, blindness, heart trouble etc. The incubation period is 10 to 90 days. The disease is curable through appropriate antibiotics like penicillin and tetracyclin.
The causative pathogen is Neisseria gonorrhoea. The bacteria lives in genital tubes and produces pus containing discharge pain around genitalia and burning sensation during urination. Incubation period is 2 to 5 days. It can be treated with appropriate antibiotics like penicillin and ampicillin.
The causative bacterium is Haemophilus ducreyi. In this infection ulcer appears over the external genitalia which is painful and bleeding with swelling of nearby lymph nodes. It can be treated with antibiotics.
2. Viral STDs:
The caustive virus is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The symptoms of AIDS are continued fever, lethargy, weight loss, nausia, headache, rashes, pharyngitis etc. Due to loss of immunity, the body is unable to protect itself against any type of infection. The disease can be diagnosed by Western Blotting and ELISA tests. The incubation period is 6 months to 10 years. So far, there is no cure, but certain drugs can prolong the life of AIDS patients which are Zidovudine or Azidothymidine (AZT), Didanosine etc.
(ii) Hepatitis B:
The causative virus is Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). The symptoms of the disease are fatigue, jaundice, persistent low fever, rash and abdominal pain. At a later stage there is liver cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer, it can be dignosed by Austrelian antigen test and ELISA. The incubation period is’30-80 days, it is incurable. Hepatitis C and Hepatitis D are also STDs.
(iii) Genital herpes:
The causative virus is Herpes simplex virus. In this disease there are vesiculopustular lesions followed by clusters of painful erythematous ulcers over external genitalia and perianal regions. Symptoms are more severe in females. There is fever, headache, pain, and itching, vaginal and urethral discharge with swelling of lymph nodes. It is also an incurable STD.
(iv) Genital Warts:
The causative virus is Human Pipilloma virus (HPV). These are hard outgrowths developing on the outer surface of external venitalia and perianal area. In women infection may enter vagina and cervix. It spreads through sexual intercourse with carriers of this virus. Cryosurgery is used for removal of the warts.
3. STDs caused by Chlamydiae:
Chlamydiae is a bacterial class whose members are obligate intracellular pathogens. The following STDs are caused by chlamydiae.
The causative bacteria are chlamydia trachomatis. This is a human pathogen that causes trachoma, sexually transmitted and perinatal infection. It causes urethritis epididymitis, cervicitis, inflamation of fallopian tubes, proctitis. The disease is transmitted by sexual contact with infected mating partner. The incubation period is about one week. Antibiotics like tetracycline, erythromycin and rifampacin are effective medicines.
(ii) Lymphogranuloma Venereum:
The causative bacterium is chlamydia trachomantis of L1, L2, L3 serotype. It is a sexually transmitted infection usually of warm climate. The disease consists of a primary cutaneous or mucosal genital lesion, urithritis or endocervicitis. Locally destructive ulcerations, rectal strictures and genital elephantiasis also occur.
4. Protozoan STDs:
The causative protozoan is Trichomonas vaginalis. The parasite infects both males and females. In females it causes vaginitis with foul odour, yellow vaginal discharge and burning sensation. In males it causes urethritis, epididymitis and prostatitis resulting in pain and burning sensation. The disease is transmitted through sexual intercourse. The disease is treated with metronidazole.
5. Fungal STDs.
The causative organism is vaginal yeast, Candida albicans. The pathogen is found in mouth, colon and vagina. In case of vaginal infection, the women experience painful inflammation with thick cheesy discharge. Males may develop painful inflammation of urethra through sexual contact with infected woman. Antibiotics like clotrimazole, miconazole and nystatin can cure the infection.
Sexually transmitted infections are a major health problem amongst college students in today's society. Each year, at least 3 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections are reported among people in the United States who are under the age of 25. Within the United States, fifteen million new cases of sexually transmitted infections are annually reported. Out of these fifteen million cases reported, four million are teenagers. Over the last few years, the annual number of new STI/HIV infections has gradually increased amongst teens. Although teens account for a small percentage of reported STI infections, college students make up a large number of this small percentage. The exact number of STIs among college students is unknown, but since college students frequently engage in sexual activities, they are at a high risk of contracting an STI.
Many factors play a role in college students being at risk of contracting an STI. One important factor that plays a role in college students being at risk deals with the social stigmas associated with STIs. The social stigmas associated with STIs often prevent many teens from discussing this health issue. As a result of these social stigmas, many teens underestimate the prevalence of STIs. This leads to young adults and adolescents having problematic knowledge, attitudes, and concerns towards sex and STIs. Consequently, there is a direct correlation between misinformed college students and their actions. Due to the lack knowledge, attitude and concern towards sex and STI, college student engage in anonymous sexual activities by having multiple sex partners and unprotected intercourse.
This is an important issue not only to the college student population but also to society in general. STI prevention by peer education is needed to help intervene with the spreading of STIs on college campuses. The more educated someone is about STI prevention; the more likely they are to make responsible and informed choices for their behaviors. The lack of not having the knowledge about STI prevention and having unprotected sex is absurd for a college student. Therefore education must be implemented on college campuses through programs in order to decrease the number of STI incidence amongst adolescents and teens. Based on popular research, it has proven that sex education programs are effective in decreasing the number of incidence if certain precautions are taken.
Peer education programs can be a powerful approach to educating youth and changing their attitudes. Some studies indicate that teenagers receive most of their information about sexual expression from other youth and the media. Peers influence becomes an increasingly important aspect of an adolescent transition to adulthood. They provide an influence and a source of behavioral support amongst each other. Studies have shown that adolescents who believe that their peers practice safe sex are more likely to do the same. In one study conducted amongst urban youth, many of the youth pointed out that they would be more likely to listen to and believe information about AIDS from a HIV-infected youth than from an older or even famous person. This study is very important because today youths are the people who are engaging in unsafe sexual activity and are at risk of STIs. Another study was also conducted based on condom use among adolescents. It was found that teens' perceptions of other teens' condom use was the best indicator for determining if they used condoms.
Peer-based programs work in a variety of settings as well. The most astonishing fact that proved peer-based programs were indeed helpful was demonstrated through an evaluation of a family planning clinic program. It found that peer counselors were more effective with teenage clients, than were adult counselors in delivering education and counseling services to prevent unwanted teenage pregnancy. Between the initial and return visits, teenage clients' use of contraceptives increased about 40 percent among those who were counseled by their peers! Among the teens that were counseled by adults the increase was only ten percent.
A primary example of a successful peer-based STI-prevention in college would be the one conducted in a Swedish university. Before a peer-based STI prevention program was put into place almost half of the students who were surveyed knowledge about the dangers of STI, was not demonstrated by their sexual practices. A majority of their sexual behaviors were activities that were susceptible in contracting an STI. From there, a prevention program was put into place that combined a mass media campaign with peer education. The whole purpose of the prevention program was to increase the university's student's knowledge about STD, improve their attitudes towards the use of contraceptives, and promote the idea of getting tested for STIs. "The message seemed to have been well accepted and led to discussions among about half of the students. Although knowledge about STDs was high at baseline, about one fourth of the students reported that their knowledge about these diseases increased" . The evaluation of this program proved that the college students developed a positive attitude towards contraceptives, and getting tested for STIs.
Many other universities often rely on flyers and poster as a source of spreading information based on STI prevention. Even though they may provide educational information about STIs, it may not be sufficient enough to change behaviors of adolescents and young adults. According to recent studies, "the most effective method to reduce sexual risk-taking behaviors includes face to face discussions (peer education) and assessment and improvement of problem-solving skills".