Let’s walk down the path to understanding the most common types of STI’s. We have heard a lot about HPV lately, with the somewhat recent introduction of HPV vaccines for our kids. HIV/AIDS is frequently in the news as well. And then there are the “usual” STI’s: herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia. And how about crabs???
Obviously, there are many infections we need to be aware of. But not all infections are created equal! We can break down these infections into three basic categories: bacterial, viral, and parasitic. These categories can help us understand the “how” and “why” of treatment, as there is no “cure-all” for STI’s.
Bacterial: Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that can live just about anywhere, inside or outside the body. Simply put, they cause infection by moving from one reservoir (a place they are hanging out, like your body) to another reservoir (like someone else’s body). Not all bacteria are bad – we need some to keep us healthy, like in our intestines. But for our discussion, we will stick with sexually transmitted bacterial infections. Examples are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. These can be cured with antibiotics, which will significantly decrease the chance of any long-term negative health effect due to the infection, if caught early enough. Unfortunately, individuals may have a bacterial STI and not have any symptoms for a while, which is why individuals are encouraged to get tested if sexually active.
Viral: Viruses are tricky because they like to live IN our cells; they take advantage of their new home and reproduce themselves within the cell. The cell will burst open and the newly formed viruses then invade other nearby cells, repeating the process. This can, and usually will, cause disease and even cancer. The common cold is an example of a viral infection. Examples of sexually transmitted viruses are human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and more recently, the Zika virus. These cannot be cured with antibiotics. However, depending on the virus there are treatments available to help with the symptoms, the progress of the disease, and even the prevention of disease. As with bacterial STI’s, viral STI’s may not present with any signs or symptoms at first, therefore testing is suggested if a person is sexually active.
Parasitic: Parasites are organisms that live on another organism. And by living on it, I mean dining and relaxing on their host organism. Ticks are one example of a type of parasite, as are intestinal worms. However, sexually transmitted parasites include pubic lice (crabs) and trichomoniaisis. These infections are treatable.
As you can tell, there are a lots of ways a person can become infected with an STI. Sometimes you can treat it, sometimes you can’t. However, there are ways to prevent them. My personal philosophy is to prevent, prevent, prevent. If I can help educate adults and adolescents, then maybe I can help prevent an unfortunate side effect of making an uninformed choice about one’s sexual health.