Sexually Transmitted Diseases – or in short, STDs – are among the most feared ones to openly discuss. Although we are becoming more and more aware of the issue, it might still be surprising actually how many affected people go asymptomatic (showing no symptoms at all) and how they can get STDs without actually having sex with anybody. Here are some guidelines on what a health-conscious person does when it comes to the suspected disease of the genitourinary system (1)
A scientific study (2) showed that two of the most abundant STDs in the developed world, namely gonorrhea and chlamydia, go unnoticed simply because in 45% and 77% of the cases, respectively, the person is asymptomatic. It’s an incredibly high number which immediately hints us two important things: first, it’s not enough to get tested when we have symptoms, and second, we should consider testing based on our sexual and other hygiene-related behaviors when we think about getting tested.
Under “STD Symptoms” we usually mean burning or itching in the genital area, unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, bumps, and sores at the genitals. As symptoms, we should also consider pain during sex, pain in the pelvic or abdominal region, and totally non-specific symptoms like extreme tiredness, fever, rashes, and weight loss. It’s important to understand that certain symptoms and diseases could develop due to an unnoticed or overlooked infection. For instance, infertility rates are generally higher when having STDs, and pregnancies also could get seriously affected by unnoticed infections, therefore regular tests before conception and during pregnancy could help address these issues. In most cases, these infections, like trichomoniasis, chlamydia, syphilis infections are easy to cure by antibiotics, antivirals and antifungal treatment and even the incurable ones, like HIV and herpes infections could be managed pretty well – so the bottom line is that seeking a diagnosis and a treatment could only be beneficial for the patient.
It’s important to mention another commonly avoided topic that could also completely ruin relationships: how can someone get STDs without having sex? It’s not uncommon to get an infectious disease in sun tanning salons or anywhere you may come into contact with someone else’s clothes, bedsheets, razors or towels, or having a blood transfusion. (1,3) The main question is: when should we consider getting tested for STDs?
- when having specific symptoms
- when having non-specific symptoms unexplained by other conditions
- before and during pregnancy
It could be also beneficial to get tested on a regular basis
- when having a novel sexual partner
- having blood or plasma transfusions and
- being at high risk by sharing items like towels, sheets, or razorblades with other people.
The good news is, diagnostic tests and screening panels are usually absolutely painless, and in most cases, an effective treatment or management strategy is also easily accessible.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines. MMWR 2010;59
- Farley TA, Cohen DA, Elkins W. Asymptomatic sexually transmitted diseases: the case for screening. Prev Med. 2003 Apr;36(4):502-9
Lilian Zsakai, MSc
Molecular Biologist graduated at Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Science PhD studies specializing in molecular diagnostics at Semmelweis University Business studies at Semmelweis Innovations & InCorpora