Venereal diseases or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), as the name suggests, are infections or diseases, which are mostly transmitted through any sexual act from an infected person to a noninfected sexual partner.

They are also transmitted through shared I.V. needles (such as in drug users), which have been previously used on an infected person, and via blood transfusion. Another mode of transmission, particularly of syphilis and HIV, is from the mother to the baby during childbirth and lactation.

STDs can also be contracted by a healthy person who does not have any STD symptoms. Such a person is infected but does not know it. As he or she does not have symptoms, he or she does not have the disease but is said to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Such an STI carrier is a potential threat of spreading the infection to others. All STIs can be symptomless but chlamydia is the most common to exhibit this feature. That is why screening for STIs achieves significance.

Sexually transmitted diseases are also referred to as venereal diseases (VD). Venereal comes from the Latin word venereus meaning sexual desire, which has been derived from the word Venus – the God of Love.

List of Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There are more than 20 known STDs. We name and describe the common ones. They can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or by parasites.

Bacterial STDs

  • Gonorrhea, also called the “clap” is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Gonorrhea attacks the mucous membrane of the urethra and the reproductive tract in women and the urethra in men. It is very common and can be symptomless at times.  Symptoms when present include burning urination and purulent discharge from the vagina in women and from the urethra in men. It can be diagnosed easily and can be completely cured even though its present strains have shown resistance to previously effective antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline. If not treated fully, it can cause serious complications like infertility, PID, and pregnancy problems.
  • Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STD caused by bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Its symptoms include painful urination, white cloudy watery discharge from the penis in men and from the vagina in women, lower abdominal pain, and irregular vaginal bleeding. It is often seen without symptoms and is therefore called the “silent STD”. If not treated, chlamydia can cause similar complications like gonorrhea.
  • Syphilis is highly contagious and can be also transmitted by prolonged kissing. It is caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis usually presents as a single painless sore on the genitals or mouth or anus after a window period of about three weeks. Even without treatment, the sore disappears after about 6 weeks and the spirochetes then multiply in the blood. The infection then leads to later stages of syphilis which can cause complications of the heart and the brain. Once diagnosed, it can be cured by treatment with antibiotics.
  • Chancroid is a venereal disease seen more in developing countries, especially among the lower socio-economic class and commercial sex workers. It is caused by the streptobacillus Haemophilus ducreyi. It is characterized by painful single or multiple ulcers on the genitalia which occur anytime one day to 14 days after getting infected. Inguinal glands may enlarge. Complications include persistent sores, tightness, and scarring of the penile foreskin and urethral fistulas in both men and women. Treatment is with antibiotics.

Fungal STDs

  • Candidiasis is a yeast infection caused by the fungus Candida, which is normally present in a subclinical state in the mouth, intestines, and vagina of healthy women and the penis in men. Due to weakened immunity, there can be an overgrowth of this fungus at the sites mentioned above. It can at times infect the throat and the tongue. Symptoms include a thick white cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge or a similar coating of the tongue. Though it is not classically an STD, it is transmitted by sexual acts, especially oral sex.

Viral STDs

  • Genital herpes is a highly common viral infection that iIs caused by the herpes simplex virus. It causes painful sores on the genitals, mouth, or anus depending on the type of sex indulged in. Being a viral disease, there is no complete cure, and even though the ulcers disappear, they keep on recurring after a period. It is immediately transmitted through sexual contact.
  • Viral hepatitis (Hepatitis B). Viral hepatitis, specifically hepatitis B, is also an STD. It can be transmitted through sexual activity. You can get hepatitis B if you have unprotected sex with someone who is infected. The virus is present in the fluids of the infected person and can pass to you if the person’s blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions pass into your body.
  • Genital warts are caused by Human Papilloma Virus – HPV. These warts appear on the genitals, anus, or mouth. This is a very common STD and its complications include cancer of the cervix in females and penile cancer in men.
  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that occurs due to the exchange of body fluids such as blood during blood transfusion, semen, and vaginal fluids during sex. HIV stats tell us that every 10 minutes there is a new case of HIV in the States. Initially, there are no symptoms. There is no cure for this infection. AIDS is a complication that causes death.

Protozoal STDs

  • Trichomoniasis is a very common sexually transmitted infection caused by the protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Symptoms vary and while some people may show symptoms others may not. It is a curable disease. In women, the parasite lodges itself in the vagina, vulva, or urethra while in men it is seen in the urethra. Symptoms include inflammation of the genitals, itching, burning urination or ejaculation, and discharge from the vagina in women and penis in men.

Sexually transmitted diseases have become so common that we can label the spread as an epidemic proportion.

To take the stats for the U.S., the American Social Health Organization says that one out of four teens get infected with STD every year and by the age of 25 years half of the sexually active young adults will contract STD.

The need for complete treatment and preventive measures are required to be emphasized especially among the young.