Don’t Ignore These Symptoms of STDs
Two things are true:
- People are sexual beings.
- On any given day, about one out of five Americans has a sexually transmitted disease, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papillomavirus and HIV, among others.
As we observe Sexual Health Awareness Month, it’s good to keep those two things in mind, and not form judgments about the people who acquire sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Still, there are important reasons to raise awareness now.
Cases of many STDs are on the rise – sharply. For example, 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In particular, syphilis was up 26% compared with 2020.
This unwelcome news follows hard on the heels of a 2020 CDC report, which also showed dramatic increases in two common STDs during the early days of the Covid pandemic.
Three of the most common STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – are caused by bacteria and can be cured with antibiotics. Medication also can cure trichmoniasis, caused by a parasite. Diseases caused by viruses – including herpes, human papillomavirus and HIV – can’t be cured but can be treated.
Catching these diseases early is critical.
“Syphilis that’s left untreated can lead to cardiac problems, and it can affect the nervous system, and vision,” explains Hussein Safa, MD, a family medicine doctor in Philadelphia, and medical director of Pride Program at the Einstein Healthcare Network.
“Catching it early can prevent these long-term effects,” he says. “And for chlamydia and gonorrhea, the longer they’re left untreated, the more likely they can lead to problems like infertility, for example, because it stays in the pelvic organs.”
To help you understand what to look for, we’ll examine the most common symptoms. And again, know that most STDs are curable, but the earlier the better, so it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms now.
As we talk about STDs and their signs and symptoms, you might be asking: what about monkeypox, which can also cause sores on the skin? There have been more than 24,000 monkeypox cases in the United States since the outbreak began in 2021.
Technically, though monkeypox can be transmitted during a sexual encounter, Dr. Safa says he doesn’t regard the disease as an STD.
“I really want to destigmatize monkeypox as a sexually transmitted disease and remind people that if you’re, let’s say, at a concert and you’re standing next to someone for two hours, that is prolonged skin-to-skin contact, and that can give you monkeypox.”
Of course, prevention – using condoms, for example – is the best strategy when it comes to STDs, Dr. Safa adds. If you are sexually active, he says, “get tested regularly and get treated.”