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sexualy transmitted diseases

These are infections you can catch while having sex.  The only way to find out if you've got one is to go to a clinic or doctor and ask for a full checkup.  You catch STDs directly from a partner, but not from toilet seats, towels or cups.  The only way to be totally protected is to take no risks at all.

Some of the most common STDs are:

You may not know you have it but you can find out by testing, and it's easily treated by a course of antibiotics for between 10 and 21 days.

The symptoms are caused, in females, by an infection of the cervix which can spread to inflammation of the uterus and Fallopian tubes with chronic pelvic pain.  The Fallopian tubes can become blocked and this can affect fertility.  In males, the symptom is inflammation of the urethra.  Both males and females can unknowingly pass chlamydia to partners.

When a man catches gonorrhoea, he may notice the first signs two or three days later.  There may be burning from passing urine, and then a discharge from the penis.  This infection can last for a long time and, if left untreated, it can be passed on even if there are no symptoms.

An infected woman may not experience any symptoms at all.  If the infection moves to the lower abdomen, she may feel pain.  The disease can be passed on even if the woman is unaware of any problem.

This can be a serious disease.  The first sign may be a sore near the genital area — this could be hidden in the vagina or rectum.  The sore may disappear after a few weeks but the disease is still inside the body.  Six weeks to six months after infection, other symptoms will appear if the syphilis goes untreated — skin rash, loss of hair, sore throat or lumps around the moist areas of the body.  This is the secondary stage and the symptoms may keep recurring.  A sufferer could be infectious for up to two years.

After this, the disease becomes dormant but it's still there and could cause trouble later.  Blood tests are the usual way to diagnose syphilis and it can be cured by a series of penicillin injections, especially in the early stages.

Herpes simplex (1) is the virus which causes cold sores that commonly occur around the mouth or on the genital area.

Genital herpes (2) is caught when the virus is put directly onto the genital area from a cold sore on the other person's genitals or mouth (as in oral sex).  There is no known cure for this form of herpes.

The two varieties are almost identical.  Some people don't catch herpes because they have natural immunity, or have cold sores somewhere else on the body at the time.

Cold sores start as an itchy or painful feeling which develops into a blister before breaking down to small open sores.  They usually heal within 10 days but further outbreaks can be expected if the person becomes ill or stressed.  The herpes virus always remains in the body even if no other cold sore ever appears.  The best rule of thumb in regard to being infectious is not to risk contact while symptoms are active.

genital warts
These are caused by certain varieties of the wart virus and can develop on genital skin, for example, the inside of the vagina.  A person can have genital wart virus infection without any obvious lumps.  Most have caught it from a sexual partner some time in life, but not necessarily recently.  Warts should always be treated.

thrush (candida)
This is a common fungal ihfection affecting mostly women.  It usually brings on a vaginal itch and discharge, and might also cause some burning when passing urine.  Many women have the thrush organisms living in the vagina without causing any trouble.  It can easily be treated and cured by putting pessaries and creams into and around the vagina.

Some of the more common reasons why women get an overgrowth of thrush include being pregnant or having diabetes, taking a certain type of contraceptive pill, being on antibiotics, being sick, and wearing tight clothes.

Men sometimes catch thrush from their female partners who may not know they have an infection.  Men, especially those with diabetes, can have thrush even if without a partner.  Red spots will develop on the penis and this is easily cured with an anti-fungal cream.

Lice are very tiny creatures with legs.  There are different types of lice — head lice, pubic lice (crabs) and body lice.  They can cause itching of the skin.  If they are found in the pubic hair, they can spread to other hairy parts of the body.  Treatment is easy and effective with the correct creams or lotions.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  It results from infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  The virus is carried in body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk.

There are three main ways of catching it:

     1. From sex.

     2. From contaminated hyperdermic needles.

     3. From mother to baby via the placenta or from breast milk.

Infected people can have the virus in their bodies for a long time before they develop symptoms and they can pass it on during this time.  In the later stages, the virus severely damages the immune system, resulting in an increased susceptibility to a variety of common, as well as rare, infections and to some unusual forms of cancer.

HIV infection cannot be excluded from one single test.  The full history of the patient must be considered and a physical examination undertaken.  The tests are highly specific and sensitive.  However, antibodies may be absent in the initial stage of infection.  This is known as the 'window' period and usually lasts for six to 12 weeks.  If HIV infection is suspected but the antibody test is negative, then it should be repeated in three months' time.

AIDS is treated with specific drugs to overcome secondary infections associated with the disease.  The drug AZT has been introduced to treat the virus itself.  It's not a cure for either HIV or AIDS, but it does interfere with the replication of HIV and has been shown sometimes to slow the progress of AIDS and reduce the incidence of secondary infections, although this remains unproven as reliable treatment.

All persons with HIV, whether they have symptoms or not, are potentially infectious and may spread the virus by sexual contact or sharing of needles.

Patients usually require counselling during all stages of diagnosis and treatment.  To help slow down the spread of AIDS, people must accept responsibility for protecting themselves against infection, Condoms should be worn, needles and syringes should never be shared, nor used more than once.  People in high-risk categories, for example, gay men practising anal sex and those who are HIV positive, should never knowingly place another person at risk.

Educational programs and public awareness are important weapons in the fight against AIDS.  Early advertisements, like the one showing the 'Grim Reaper' bowling down his victims, offered the shock value needed at that time to bring public understanding into sharp focus that here was a disease we couldn't afford to be casual about.  Since the early 1980s, there has been a worldwide search for a cure.  Where the mortality rate was once 100 per cent, it's now 85 per cent.  That's still abominably high, but the fight is on.

The aim is to protect public health while also preserving the human rights of the individual.

As a sexual being, you have the right to choose when, where, how and with whom you want to have sex.  Always keep in mind basic rules of hygiene, practise safe sex, love yourself, care for your partner, and you'll significantly reduce your chances of getting sick.

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