Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria
Many people don't know that that Sexually Transmitted Diseases are dangerous infections that can wreak systematic havoc on the body, internally and externally; and, in extreme cases, they can result in agonizing death.
Epidemiologists say there are more than 20 STDs, including crabs, scabies, genital warts, syphilis, AIDS, Chlamydia, Herpes, among others.
Researchers say every year, millions of STDs are passed from person to person, primarily through sexual contact, though some infections are also transmitted non-sexually.
They note that because the infections are sexually-transmitted, people don't like to talk about them and therefore leave them untreated.
"Sometimes, the infections will go away; but usually, an untreated STD will return and the infected person will suffer grave consequences as a result," epidemiologist, Mr. Segilola Araoye, warns.
Doctors also warn that STDs are dangerous for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.
Family physician, Dr. Damilare Okikiolu, notes that a pregnant woman with an STD can infect her baby before, during, or after delivery.
"She may also go into early labour or suffer early rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby in the uterus."
Worse still, doctors say, the complications of STIs in pregnant women can result in cervical cancer and other cancers for the mother. As for the unborn baby, he may suffer chronic hepatitis, neonatal sepsis (infection in the blood), damage to the brain, blindness, deafness, acute hepatitis, meningitis, and chronic liver disease.
Okikiolu laments that some of the effects of birth-related sexually-transmitted diseases may not be detected for months or sometimes, even years.
Physicians warn that there are no vaccines for the prevention of some of these STDs and that even after a patient must have been treated for any of them, he or she could still get a new infection if they don't adhere to strict sexual health practices.
He advises sexually active people who have more than one partner or those who engage in risky sexual behaviours to regularly screen for STIs.
While we may not be able to mention all the STDs in the books, a brief examination of some of them would do. So, here we go...
Okikiolu says typically, most people who have Chlamydia don't know they do because the bacterial infection often has no symptoms, though it's one of the most reported STDs.
He warns, "Chlamydia is easy to cure, but if left untreated, it can affect a woman's ability to conceive; just as it can affect the genitals, rectum, eyes and eyelids.
"Indeed, about 10-15 per cent of women with Chlamydia will develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which affects the upper genital tract. This may cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues, and can lead to infertility. It may also lead to ectopic pregnancy. In men, Chlamydia infection can spread to the testes, and can result in sterility," the doctor warns.
The signs and symptoms of Chlamydia, Okikiolu says, usually include painful urination, lower abdominal pain, vaginal discharge in women, discharge from the penis in men, pain during sexual intercourse in women, and testicular pain in men."
He warns that any sexually frivolous person can get Chlamydia, "but female teens are more likely to be infected because of immature cervix."
This STI, also called Trich, presents no symptom, physicians say; and is one of the most common causes of vaginitis - an irritation of the vulva or vagina. It takes between three and 28 days for symptoms to appear, if ever they do. Consequently, victims - especially men - don't know they have it until they start having discharge from the urethra, or when they feel the urge to urinate frequently - often with pain and burning.
Okikiolu notes that when women have Trich symptoms, they may have frothy, often unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge, blood spotting in the discharge, itching in and around the vagina, and swelling in the groin.
This STD is one of the most versatile, as it presents in four stages -primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary - when left untreated.
Okikiolu explains that, "The primary stage classically presents with firm, painless, non-itchy skin ulceration (chancre); secondary stage comes with a diffuse rash which frequently involves the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Latent syphilis presents little or no symptoms, but by the time it graduates to tertiary stage, you can have a soft, non-cancerous growth (gummas, commonly found in the liver, brain, heart, skin, bone, testis, and other tissues). These can lead to a variety of potential problems, including neurological disorders or heart valve disease."
Signs and symptoms of syphilis include a firm, round, small, and painless sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth; or a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet, researchers say.
While all the aforementioned STDs are treatable, not so herpes. Doctors say "there is no cure for this infection, though treatment can reduce symptoms and decrease the risk of transmission to another person."
Okikiolu says herpes presents no symptoms or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed or are mistaken for another skin condition.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warns that when symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. "The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take two to four weeks to heal. The first time someone has an outbreak, they may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches and swollen glands."
As deadly as herpes is, scientists say, the infection can remain in the body indefinitely; and if a person with genital herpes touches his/her sores, he may transfer the infection to another part of the body, including the eyes.
Again, physicians warn, "The genital sores caused by herpes can bleed easily. When the sores come into contact with the mouth, vagina, or rectum during sex, they increase the risk of HIV transmission if either partner is HIV-infected."
Genital HPV infection
Okikiolu says there are more than 40 types of Human Papilloma Virus that not only infect the male and female genitals, but can also infect the mouth and throat. Also incurable, as HPV lingers in the body, it can cause serious health problems such as genital warts and certain cancers, physicians warn.
Experts say though in about 90 per cent of the cases, HPV infections go away by themselves within two years, sometimes, they may persist and cause a variety of serious health problems such as genital warts, recurrent respiratory papillomatosis - a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat; cervical cancer, cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus; and a type of head/neck cancer called oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).