Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are very common. Nearly 26 million Americans reported having STDs in 2018. Most STDs are treatable, though. Bacterial infections such as syphilis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea all respond well to antibiotic treatment.
There are four sexually transmitted diseases, however, that have no cure. All of the incurable STDs are viruses, and they stay in the body for many years. They have different effects, and their treatment varies.
Both types of herpes are highly transmissible. You can get herpes from contact with an infected person’s saliva or genital secretions. You can also get herpes from making contact with a herpes sore or skin around the mouth or genitals of someone with herpes. It is possible to transmit herpes even if you don’t have a visible lesion.
Both types of herpes are very common. The World Health Organization estimates that 2/3 of people under 50 have HSV-1, and 417 million people have HSV-2.
Once you have herpes, the virus remains in your body for the rest of your life. You may be prone to periodic outbreaks of herpes lesions, but the virus can also stay dormant for long stretches of time. There are also medications that can shorten or prevent outbreaks. Your doctor can tell you about your medication options.
Human papilloma virus (HPV)
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The CDC estimates that nearly 80 million Americans have HPV. You can get HPV from oral, anal, or genital contact with another person with HPV.
Most cases of HPV have no symptoms. Certain strains of the virus can lead to genital or anal warts. Your doctor can treat such warts with topical medication or by removing the growths. Warts can come back after removal, though.
Several strains of HPV are linked to cancer of the cervix, mouth, throat, penis, and anus. There are vaccines that can prevent those strains. Your doctor can tell you if you are eligible for the vaccine. If you develop cancer, you will need treatment from a cancer specialist.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Adults can only get AIDS from sexual contact or blood-to-blood transmission, though babies can get HIV in utero or from breastfeeding.
You may have flu-like symptoms shortly after infection with HIV, but many people never have any signs at all. The virus lives in the body and reproduces without causing any symptoms. Only an HIV test will reveal the infection. Without treatment, the virus does permanent damage to the immune system, eventually leading to AIDS.
If you have AIDS, your body will no longer be able to fight off other types of infections. Even mild illnesses result in serious sickness. Without treatment, most people with AIDS died within three years.
There are medications to prevent HIV, as well as drugs that keep the virus controlled after you have been infected. You will need to take medication for the rest of your life if you contract HIV. Your doctor can tell you what your treatment options are.
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a virus that causes liver infection. In some cases, HBV causes an acute illness followed by recovery. Other people have chronic hepatitis B, a lifelong condition that can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and occasionally death.
You can become infected with HBV via sexual contact or from blood-to-blood transmission. It’s also possible to spread the virus through sharing personal care items such as toothbrushes or razors. You can have HBV without knowing, putting you at risk of passing it to others.
There is a vaccine for hepatitis B. The vaccine is safe and effective at preventing infection with HBV. Your doctor can tell you if you are eligible for the vaccine. If you have chronic hepatitis B, there are medications you can take to limit the damage to your liver over the long term.
Avoiding STDs is the best way to safeguard your health. If you are eligible for vaccines that prevent hepatitis B or HPV, they will protect you from those viruses. HIV does not have a vaccine to prevent it, but there are oral medications that reduce your risk of contracting the virus. Using a condom can help reduce the risk of herpes and other sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor can help you choose which type of STD prevention is best for you.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "About HIV." "Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet," "Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet," "Hepatitis B Questions and Answers for the Public," "HIV 101," "How You Can Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases," "Sexually Transmitted Infections Prevalence, Incidence, and Cost Estimates in the United States."
National Health Service: "Genital warts."
World Health Organization: "Globally, an estimated two-thirds of the population under 50 are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1."