Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Prevention Strategies
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Published: Tue, 15 May 2018
Until the 1990s, STDs were commonly known as venereal diseases: Veneris is the Latin genitive form of the name Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Social disease was another euphemism. Public health officials originally introduced the term sexually transmitted infection, which clinicians are increasingly using alongside the term sexually transmitted disease in order to distinguish it from the former. According to the Ethiopian Aids Resource Center FAQ, “Sometimes the terms STI and STD are used interchangeably. This can be confusing and not always accurate, so it helps first to understand the difference between infection and disease. Infection simply means that a germ-virus, bacteria, or parasite-that can cause disease or sickness is present inside a person’s body. An infected person does not necessarily have any symptoms or signs that the virus or bacteria is actually hurting his or her body; they do not necessarily feel sick. A disease means that the infection is actually causing the infected person to feel sick, or to notice something is wrong. For this reason, the term STI – which refers to infection with any germ that can cause an STD, even if the infected person has no symptoms-is a much broader term than STD. The distinction being made, however, is closer to that between a colonization snd an infection, rather than between an infection and a disease.
Specifically, the term STD refers only to infections that are causing symptoms. Because most of the time people do not know that they are infected with an STD until they start showing symptoms of disease, most people use the term STD, even though the term STI is also appropriate in many cases.
Moreover, the term sexually transmissible disease is sometimes used since it is less restrictive in consideration of other factors or means of transmission. For instance, meningitis is transmissible by means of sexual contact but is not labeled as an STI because sexual contact is not the primary vector for the pathogens that cause meningitis. This discrepancy is addressed by the probability of infection by means other than sexual contact. In general, an STI is an infection that has a negligible probability of transmission by means other than sexual contact, but has a realistic means of transmission by sexual contact (more sophisticated means-blood transfusion, sharing of hypodermic needles-are not taken into account). Thus, one may presume that, if a person is infected with an STI, e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, it was transmitted to him/her by means of sexual contact.
The diseases on this list are most commonly transmitted solely by sexual activity. Many infectious diseases, including the common cold, influenza, pneumonia, and most others that are transmitted person-to-person can also be transmitted during sexual contact, if one person is infected, due to the close contact involved. However, even though these diseases may be transmitted during sex, they are not considered STDs.
- Granuloma inguinale or (Klebsiella granulomati)
- Gonorrhea (Neisseria gonorrhoeae)
- Syphilis (Treponema pallidum)
- Tinea cruris, “jock itch,” may be sexually transmitted.
- Candidiasis, yeast infection
- Viral hepatitis (Hepatitis B virus)-saliva, venereal fluids.
- (Note: Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E are transmitted via the fecal-oral route; Hepatitis C (liver cancer) is rarely sexually transmittable and the route of transmission of Hepatitis D (only if infected with B) is uncertain, but may include sexual transmission.)
- Herpes simplex (Herpes simplex virus 1, 2) skin and mucosal, transmissible with or without visible blisters
- HIV/ AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)- venereal flu. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)- skin and mucosal contact. ‘High risk’ types of HPV are known to cause most types of cervical cancer, as well as well as anal, penile and genital warts..
- Molluscum contagiosum (molluscum contagiosum virus MCV)-close contact
- Crab louse, colloquially known as “crabs” or “pubic lice” (Phthirius pubis)
- Scabies (Sarcoptes scabi)
- Trichomoniasis (Trichomonas vaginalis)
Sexually transmissible enteric infections
- Hepatitis A
- Protozoan (parasitic)
Above pathogens are transmitted by sexual practices that promote anal-oral contamination (fecal-oral). Sharing sex toys without washing or multiple partnered barebacking can promote anal-anal contamination. Although the bacterial pathogens may coexist with or cause proctitis, they usually produce symptoms (diarrhea, fever, bloating, nausea, and abdominal pain) suggesting disease more proximal in the GI tract. These diseases can cause various forms of cancer long term, malnutrition, and weight loss.
For immuno-compromised individuals (such as with HIV), these infections can often cause severe weight loss, weakness, and death. Cryptosporidium is the organism most commonly isolated in HIV positive patients presenting with diarrhea.
Many STDs are (more easily) transmitted through the mucous membranes of the penis, vulva, rectum, urinary tract and (less often-depending on type of infection) the mouth, throat, respiratory tract and eyes. The visible membrane covering the head of the penis is a mucous membrane, though it produces no mucus (similar to the lips of the mouth). Mucous membranes differ from skin in that they allow certain pathogens into the body. Pathogens are also able to pass through breaks or abrasions of the skin, even minute ones. The shaft of the penis is particularly susceptible due to the friction caused during penetrative sex. The primary sources of infection in ascending order are venereal fluids, saliva, mucosal or skin (particularly the penis), infections may also be transmitted from feces, urine and sweat. The amount required to cause infection varies with each pathogen but is always less than you can see with the naked eye.
This is one reason that the probability of transmitting many infections is far higher from sex than by more casual means of transmission, such as non-sexual contact-touching, hugging, shaking hands-but it is not the only reason. Although mucous membranes exist in the mouth as in the genitals, many STIs seem to be easier to transmit through oral sex than through deep kissing. According to a safe sex chart, many infections that are easily transmitted from the mouth to the genitals or from the genitals to the mouth, are much harder to transmit from one mouth to another. With HIV, genital fluids happen to contain much more of the pathogen than saliva. Some infections labeled as STIs can be transmitted by direct skin contact. Herpes simplex and HPV are both examples. KSHV, on the other hand, may be transmitted by deep-kissing but also when saliva is used as a sexual lubricant.
Depending on the STD, a person may still be able to spread the infection if no signs of disease are present. For example, a person is much more likely to spread herpes infection when blisters are present (STD) than when they are absent (STI). However, a person can spread HIV infection (STI) at any time, even if he/she has not developed symptoms of AIDS (STD).
All sexual behaviors that involve contact with the bodily fluids of another person should be considered to contain some risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Most attention has focused on controlling HIV, which causes AIDS, but each STD presents a different situation.
As may be noted from the name, sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted from one person to another by certain sexual activities rather than being actually caused by those sexual activities. Bacteria, funia, protozoa or viruses are still the causative agents. It is not possible to catch any sexually transmitted disease from a sexual activity with a person who is not carrying a disease; conversely, a person who has an STD got it from contact (sexual or otherwise) with someone who had it, or his/her bodily fluids. Some STDs such as HIV can be transmitted from mother to child either during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Although the likelihood of transmitting various diseases by various sexual activities varies a great deal, in general, all sexual activities between two (or more) people should be considered as being a two-way route for the transmission of STDs, i.e., “giving” or “receiving” are both risky although receiving carries a higher risk.
Healthcare professionals suggest safer sex, such as the use of condoms, as the most reliable way of decreasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases during sexual activity, but safer sex should by no means be considered an absolute safeguard. The transfer of and exposure to bodily fluids, such as blood transfusions and other blood products, sharing injection needles, needle-stick injuries (when medical staff are inadvertently jabbed or pricked with needles during medical procedures), sharing tattoo needles, and childbirth are other avenues of transmission. These different means put certain groups, such as medical workers, and haemophiliacs and drug users, particularly at risk.
Recent epidemiological studies have investigated the networks that are defined by sexual relationships between individuals, and discovered that the properties of sexual networks are crucial to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, assortative mixing between people with large numbers of sexual partners seems to be an important factor.
It is possible to be an asymptomatic carrier of sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, sexually transmitted diseases in women often cause the serious condition of pelvic inflammatory disease.
Main article: Safe sex
Prevention is key in addressing incurable STIs, such as HIV & herpes.
The most effective way to prevent sexual transmission of STIs is to avoid contact of body parts or fluids which can lead to transfer with an infected partner. No contact minimizes risk. Not all sexual activities involve contact: cybersex, phonesex or masturbation from a distance are methods of avoiding contact. Proper use of condoms reduces contact and risk. Although a condom is effective in limiting exposure, some disease transmission may occur even with a condom.
Ideally, both partners should get tested for STIs before initiating sexual contact, or before resuming contact if a partner engaged in contact with someone else. Many infections are not detectable immediately after exposure, so enough time must be allowed between possible exposures and testing for the tests to be accurate. Certain STIs, particularly certain persistent viruses like HPV, may be impossible to detect with current medical procedures.
Many diseases that establish permanent infections can so occupy the immune system that other diseases become more easily transmitted. The innate immune system led by defensins against HIV can prevent transmission of HIV when viral counts are very low, but if busy with other viruses or overwhelmed, HIV can establish itself. Certain viral STI’s also greatly increase the risk of death for HIV infected patients.
Vaccines are available that protect against some viral STIs, such as Hepatitis B and some types of HPV. Vaccination before initiation of sexual contact is advised to assure maximal protection.
Condoms only provide protection when used properly as a barrier, and only to and from the area that it covers. Uncovered areas are still susceptible to many STDs. In the case of HIV, sexual transmission routes almost always involve the penis, as HIV cannot spread through unbroken skin, thus properly shielding the insertive penis with a properly worn condom from the vagina and anus effectively stops HIV transmission. An infected fluid to broken skin borne direct transmission of HIV would not be considered “sexually transmitted”, but can still theoretically occur during sexual contact, this can be avoided simply by not engaging in sexual contact when having open bleeding wounds. Other STDs, even viral infections, can be prevented with the use of latex condoms as a barrier. Some microorganisms and viruses are small enough to pass through the pores in natural skin condoms, but are still too large to pass through latex condoms.
Proper usage entails:
- Not putting the condom on too tight at the end, and leaving 1.5 cm (3/4 inch) room at the tip for ejaculation. Putting the condom on snug can and often does lead to failure.
- Wearing a condom too loose can defeat the barrier.
- Avoiding inverting, spilling a condom once worn, whether it has ejaculate in it or not, even for a second.
- Avoiding condoms made of substances other than latex or polyurethane, as they don’t protect against HIV.
- Avoiding the use of oil based lubricants (or anything with oil in it) with latex condoms, as oil can eat holes into them.
- Using flavored condoms for oral sex only, as the sugar in the flavoring can lead to yeast infections if used to penetrate.
Not following the first five guidelines above perpetuates the common misconception that condoms aren’t tested or designed properly.
In order to best protect oneself and the partner from STIs, the old condom and its contents should be assumed to be still infectious. Therefore the old condom must be properly disposed of. A new condom should be used for each act of intercourse, as multiple usage increases the chance of breakage, defeating the primary purpose as a barrier
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