Travel Health Service Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Travel related diseases

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are infections caused by various infectious organisms (bacteria, virus) and transmitted through sexual activity. The incubation period of each STD varies, the symptoms might differ also. Some common symptoms are inflammation, growth, blisters, itchiness, painful sore, frequent urination or stabbing pain on voiding and whitish discharge of the genital organ. Sometimes symptoms of STD are not be easy to detect. In particular, women may show no symptoms at all.

STD can be serious. They affect genital organs and cause complications or even death; the children of the STD patient may be affected as well. Anyone who suspect to have contracted a STD should go for medical checkup, effective treatment and counselling. Travellers are at risk of contracting STD if they have sexual contact with partners who have these diseases. The most commonly seen STD include Syphilis, Gonorrhoea and AIDS.

Syphilis is caused by a spirochaeta called Treponema pallidum. The incubation period ranges from 2 weeks to 3 months, usually 3 weeks. Symptoms are the same for men and women. If untreated, the disease progresses and elicits different symptoms at different stages. In the first stage, a painless sore will appear on or around the sex organ and will clear up on its own within days or weeks. Later, a body rash which may not be itchy appear, as does mouth sores, fever, sore throats or flu-like symptoms. Then symptoms disappear and the disease seems to have healed, but antibody is present in the body and can be detected by blood tests. At the late stage, damage to heart, eyes, ears, and central nervous system occurs, causing blindness, paralysis and even death. The disease is most infectious during the first two stages when symptoms are most noticeable.

Gonorrhoea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The incubation period is usually 2 to 7 days. Symptoms are different for male and female. In women, it often causes no symptoms or mild (yellowish vaginal discharge, pain when passing urine, fever, chills, abdominal pain and painful joints). In men, obvious symptoms occur, including yellowish discharge from penis, pain on passing urine.

AIDS is caused by the virus HIV. The incubation period is very long, usually 10 years. Symptoms encompass a broad spectrum ranging from asymptomatic to those of serious infections and rare cancers.

How does STD spread?

The route of transmission of all STD is the same - by direct contact with exudates from infected people during sexual intercourse. STDs are usually diagnosed by blood tests, cultures or smears.

As these STD agents can only survive inside the human body, the disease cannot be contracted or spread through social contacts such as shaking hands, sharing meals, swimming in public pools, nor by insect bites.

How to prevent STD?

To avoid acquiring STD, travellers should not have sexual contact with persons who might be infected. The greater the number of sexual partners, the higher is the risk. Proper use of condom can help to decrease the risk of infection though does not guarantee perfect protection.

How to treat STD?

STD are extremely serious disease, and they must be thoroughly treated. Serious sequelae include pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, genital cancers and death. Travellers who believe that they might have been exposed to STD should consult doctors for advice. All the sexual partners of infected people have to be treated.