Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

What is an STD?

An STD, or sexually transmitted disease, is a reference to diseases passed from person to person through sexual contact. This sexual contact can us usually unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has already contracted an STD from another person.

While unprotected sexual contact is the most common way people get STDs, there are other ways that STDs are transmitted, like through the sharing of needles, and breastfeeding.

STD Symptoms Men

While there is the possibility of getting an STD and having no symptoms at all, it is often common for STDs to cause some obvious symptoms in men. These symptoms include:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • sores, bumps, or rashes on or around the penis, testicles, anus, buttocks, thighs, or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis
  • painful or swollen testicles

STD Symptoms Women

Often, STDs in women do not cause obvious symptoms. However, when they do, these are the common symptoms in women:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • sores, bumps, or rashes on or around the vagina, anus, buttocks, thighs, or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the vagina
  • itchiness in or around the vagina

Types of STDs

Chlamydia

Some kinds of bacteria cause chlamydia. It’s one of the most commonly reported STDs globally.

People with chlamydia often do not develop noticeable symptoms. However, if they do develop symptoms, they will encounter:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain in the lower abdomen

If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to:

  • Infections of the groin area, including the urethra, prostate gland or testicles.
  • PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Infertility

If a pregnant woman has untreated chlamydia, she can pass it to her baby during birth. The baby may develop:

  • pneumonia
  • eye infections
  • blindness

Chlamydia is easily treatable through the use of antibiotics. This is why it’s important to diagnose early and treat it as quickly as possible.

Syphilis

Also bacterial in nature, Syphilis often goes unnoticed in its early stages.

The first symptom is a small round sore called a chancre. Chancres can develop anywhere on the genitals, anus, or mouth. At this point, the disease is painless but very infectious.

Later symptoms of syphilis can include:

  • rash
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headaches
  • joint pain
  • weight loss
  • hair loss

If left untreated, late-stage syphilis can lead to:

  • loss of vision
  • loss of hearing
  • loss of memory
  • mental illness
  • infections of the brain or spinal cord
  • heart disease
  • death

Early diagnosis is important as it is an easily treatable disease. Pregnant women should be screened for syphilis as the disease can be fatal to the newborn.

HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) damages the immune system, and increases the risk of contracting viruses, bacteria and developing cancer. When left untreated, HIV progresses to AIDS. However, with modern medicine, many people living with HIV don’t ever develop AIDS.

Screening is important as it is easy to mistake the early symptoms of HIV with those of the flu. These symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • aches and pains
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • nausea
  • rashes

These initial symptoms typically clear within a month or so. Beyond this period of time, a person with HIV can live without developing any other symptoms for years. Others might develop nonspecific symptoms, such as:

  • recurrent fatigue
  • fevers
  • headaches
  • stomach issues

While there’s no cure for HIV, treatment options are available. Early and effective treatment can help people with HIV live as long as those without HIV.

Effective treatment decreases the chances of transmitting HIV to another sexual partner, breaking the chain of transmission. This means that treatment can lower the amount of HIV in a person’s body to undetectable levels. At such low levels, HIV cannot be transmitted to other people.

However, without regular testing, people with HIV will not know that they carry the virus. This is why regular screening is recommended. With recent advancements in testing and treatment, it’s possible to live a long and healthy life with HIV.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, also known as “the clap” is  common bacterial STD.

People with gonorrhea might develop no symptoms. However, when present, symptoms may include:

  • a white, yellow, beige, or green-colored discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • more frequent urination than usual
  • itching around the genitals
  • sore throat

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to:

  • infections of the urethra, prostate gland, or testicles
  • PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Infertility

Gonorrhea can be passed to a newborn during childbirth. This can cause serious health problems to the child. This is why doctors recommend that pregnant women get tested for potential STDs. Gonorrhea can usually be treated with antibiotics.

Pubic lice (‘crabs’)

They look like crabs, but these are actually pubic lice, so it’s more of an infestation than an infection. Public lice live in your public hair and feed on your blood

Some common symptoms of pubic lice include:

  • itching around the genitals or anus
  • small pink or red bumps around the genitals or anus
  • low-grade fever
  • lack of energy
  • irritability

Using a magnifying glass, you might be able to see the pubic lice, and their eggs, near the root of the pubic hair. They can also be found attached to the skin when feeding.

Untreated pubic lice can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, shared clothing, bedding, or towels. Scratched bites can also become infected. It is recommended that pubic lice infestations be treated as quickly as possible, before the lice grow in numbers.

Pubic lice can be treated using OTC topical treatments, and tweezers to pluck them off the pubic area. However, you must also clean your clothes, bedding, towels, and home to prevent continued infestation.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a protozoan organism that can transmit through genital contact.

Less than one-third of people with trichomoniasis develop symptoms. If symptoms develop, they may include:

  • discharge from the vagina or penis
  • burning or itching around the vagina or penis
  • pain or discomfort during urination or sex
  • frequent urination

In women, the discharge often has a “fishy” smell.

If left untreated, trich can lead to:

  • infections of the urethra
  • PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Infertility

Trichchomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics, so early diagnosis and treatment is highly recommended.

Herpes

There are 2 main strains of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), namely HSV-1 and HSV2. Herpes is one of the most common STDs, and it is estimated that at least 1 out of every 6 persons have herpes.

HSV-1 is primarily responsible for something called oral herpes, and results in cold sores near the mouth. However, HSV-1 can also be passed from one person’s mouth to another person’s genitals during oral sex. When this happens, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes.

HSV-2 primarily causes genital herpes. It’s most common symptom is blistery sores. While HSV-2 causes sores to develop near or on the genitals, HSV-1 causes them to develop near or on the mouth.

These sores will heal within a few weeks, and while the earlier sore outbreaks will hurt the most, they become less painful and less frequent over time.

Pregnant women with herpes can pass it to the fetus in the womb or to the newborn during childbirth. This is known as congenital herpes, and can endanger the child. It is therefore important for pregnant women to get an STD screening so that they know about their status.

Herpes has no cure, but it is non-lethal and there is medication that exists to control outbreaks. These same medications can also lower your chances of passing herpes to your sexual partner.

Regular STD screenings are important for early detection and management of herpes, so be sure to check in with your doctor to find out how you can get tested for herpes and other STDs.

Curable STDs

These STDs can be cured with antibiotics or other treatments:

  • chlamydia
  • syphilis
  • gonorrhea
  • crabs
  • trichomoniasis

These STDs are currently incurable:

  • HPV
  • HIV
  • herpes

It’s important to note that even if an STD can’t be cured, it can still be managed. This is why regular STD screenings are key, as they often allow you to acquire an early diagnosis so that your doctor can begin treating the disease and help you manage it. This also helps to break the chain of transmission, lowering your chances of transmitting the STD to another person. In many cases, people with STDs live normal lives with medication.

STDs and pregnancy

As mentioned earlier, pregnant women may transmit STDs to the fetus during pregnancy or newborn during childbirth. STDs can be life-threatening to newborns in many cases.

To help prevent STDs in newborns, it is important for pregnant women to be screened for STDs, even if they don’t have symptoms.

Diagnosis of STDs

Doctors will not be able to diagnose STDs just by looking at symptoms. While symptoms will point them in a certain direction, there will still need to be some kind of testing to know which specific STD is causing these symptoms.

You doctor will also recommend STD screenings depending on your sexual history, as many STDs do not cause noticeable symptoms. This is because even symptom-free STDs can cause damage and be transmitted to other people.

STD screenings take the form of a urine or blood test, as well as genital or anal swabs. If any sores are visible, those can be swabbed as well.

If you’ve had any type of sex at all, you should consider asking your doctor for an STD screening for your own safety and wellness.

Treatment of STDs

STD treatment is vital to your wellbeing and the health of your sexual partner. It’s very important that you and your sexual partner be successfully treated for STDs before resuming sexual activity. Otherwise, you can pass an infection back and forth between you.

Bacterial STDs

Bacterial STDs can usually be easily treated by antibiotics. However, antibiotics only work when they are taken as prescribed. That means finishing all of them. If your symptoms do not resolve, or they come back after you have finished your antibiotics, be sure to let your doctor know.

Viral STDs

Most viral STDs don’t have a cure associated with them, but some will resolve on their own. It is also important to note that no antibiotic will help with a viral infection. Most doctors will focus on treating the symptoms and reducing possibility of transmission.

A good example is that medications are available to slow or stop HIV from progressing to the stage of AIDS. Herpes medications that reduce the frequency and intensity of outbreaks are also available.

Other STDs

Some STDs are caused by small organisms. For example:

  • pubic lice
  • trichomoniasis
  • scabies

These STDs have readily available oral and topical treatments available, and are easily treated.

Preventing STDs

Completely abstaining from sexual contat, while not entirely practical, is the only way to truly prevent getting an STD. However, most people will have some form of sexual contact at one time or another in their lives. This is when they will need to know how to protect themselves.

Condoms are effective against many STDs, but only when used properly. For maximum protection, use condoms during all forms of sex, whether vaginal, oral or anal. Condoms act as a barrier, preventing STDs that spread through semen or blood. However, STDs that can spread through skin contact, like pubic lice, can be contracted in areas where the condom does not cover.

It is important to note that other forms of birth control do not protect against STDs.

Another important thing to do is to have regular STD screenings. As long as you are sexually active, it is advisable to conduct regular STD screenings for yourself. This is also true if you have a new partner, or have multiple partners.

Prior to sexual contact with a new person, it is important to discuss sexual history. You should consider having your partner screened for STDs by a professional. This is because many STDs can be asymptomatic in people, and testing is the only sure way to know if someone has any STDs.

Assuming your sexual partner does test positive for an STD, the next step is for them to strictly follow their doctor’s treatment plan. At this point, you should also check with your doctor about how you can protect yourself from contracting the STD that your partner has.

Tags: std testing Singapore, hiv test Singapore, std clinic Singapore

Vaginal Discharge – What Is Considered Abnormal?

Most women have vaginal discharge that comes out of the vagina. Some have it daily, whereas some have it once in a while. The amounts can be less and infrequent, or heavy and continuous.  Most of the time healthy vaginal discharge is one that is clear or whitish, may have a slight odor that is not strong smelling, may even leave a yellow stain on the underwear.

Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

The abnormal vagina discharge is one that arises from within the walls of the vagina. This discharge can either be clear and watery, thick and white, or even have other colour changes such as yellow, pink, red or even green. 

This discharge can also accompany other symptoms such as vagina Odour – foul smell or fishy smell, vagina pain during sex, vagina pain, vagina itch and discomfort. The consistency of this discharge can also become thicker and more opaque as well.

Again this discharge can be caused by an infection, whether hygiene related or STI related. 

Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Causes of hygiene related vagina discharge include Yeast, Monilla, Candida, group B streptococcus, Gardnerella (also known as bacteria vaginosis). 

Causes of STI related vagina discharge are chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas, mycoplasma hominis, ureaplasma urealyticum or other vaginal bacteria. Symptoms may appear from 3 days after receptive vaginal intercourse or even receptive female oral fellatio. Many times, conditions such as Chlamydia can remain asymptomatic or symptomless in 7 out of 10 women.

If left untreated, the infections from STI related vagina discharge can cause long term problems such as infertility and even organ damage such as pelvic inflammatory disease. All these are easily preventable with a simple, confidential and fuss free DTAP Express vaginal STD swab. Rapid results for common STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea allow for quick peace of mind and expedited treatment for you and or your partner. Expedited partner therapy allows you to collect medications for your partner also.

STD Testing For Abnormalities

If you opt instead for the DTAP Express FULL Vaginal STD swab, this will pick up both STI related causes of vagina discharge and non STI, or hygiene related causes of vagina discharge. These are all curable with treatments after the results. A repeat swab test is also advised 2 weeks after the end of treatment to document treatment success. 

In some rarer instances, some ladies experience repeated abnormal discharge every month nearing their periods, or even abnormal discharge each time after sex even though both partners have been tested clear for STIs. The results after the swab can then be discussed with our DTAP clinic doctors to further investigate the causes of these repeated symptoms. Our DTAP Clinics at DUO, Robertson and Holland Village have doctors that regularly see Women’s health conditions such as repeated vaginal discharge even after testing and treatment.

Quick, confidential and fuss-free testing in the comfort and privacy of our DTAP Express clinic, designed around the comforts and needs of You the patient, allow for rapid results and expedited treatment for you and or your partner.

References

Carla Re et. l., 2019 J. Int STD & Aids

Vaginal Pain – Causes And Possible Complications

Vagina pain can be caused by infections, hormone related problems or even cysts. The pain can be located on the outer genital region at the vulva involving the skin and labia or the pain can be located from within the walls of the vagina.

Causes of Vaginal Pain

Vaginal pain during periods or menstruations are often associated with gynecological problems and require further women’s health investigations such as a thorough examination, blood test and even scans.

Vaginal pain that is however associated with vaginal discharge, itch and discomfort are then likely due to infections. These infections can either be STI or STD related or Non STI related vaginal infections. The pain arising from infections can either be at the outer genital region or even during sex within the walls of the vagina.

One reason why the pain occurs during an infection is that the walls of the vagina get inflamed and irritated. And upon contact during sex, pain is triggered. 

Non-STI Infections

The infections that can give rise to vagina pain include the non STI infections such as Yeast, Monilla, Candida, group B streptococcus, Gardnerella (also known as bacteria vaginosis). These infections can occur due to a change in hormones, hygiene concerns or even hygiene bacteria from your partner after sex. Sometimes these infections occur with a discharge that may have an odour or smell present. This discharge can either be clear and watery, thick and white, or even yellow or green in colour.

If however the infection was caused by an STI or STD such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomonas, mycoplasma hominis, ureaplasma urealyticum or other vaginal bacteria, it can also lead to vagina pain, with or without discharge, without or without odour and sometimes even without any symptoms at all. In the event there are symptoms, they may appear 3-5 days after sexual exposure.

Getting Tested

If you are concerned about STDs, especially the common ones like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, DTAP Express vagina STD swab allows one to pick up the common STD infections with the aid of a soft self swab, in a circular motion up the walls of the vagina. Studies have shown that self assessed swabs were as accurate as those taken by a healthcare worker and the added benefit of privacy and overcoming any embarrassment or shyness one may have seeing a healthcare worker.

However for ladies who prefer a comprehensive investigation, the DTAP Express FULL Vaginal STD swab will pick up the remaining causes of an infection whether hygiene related such as Yeast, Monila, Candida, group B streptococcus, Gardnerella (also known as bacteria vaginosis). Or the remaining STI related ones such as trichomonas, mycoplasma hominis, ureaplasma urealyticum or other vaginal bacteria.