Ask anyone who is sexually active today for a reason to practice safe sex and they will say "AIDS." However, there are at least 25 other sexually transmitted diseases that may be contracted at a much greater risk than AIDS. They are all highly contagious and strike millions of Americans each year—primarily teenagers and young adults.

One might think that only the promiscuous and those who live in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods are apt to become infected, but the truth is anyone who engages in unprotected sex with an infected partner can get an STD. STDs are the most common infectious diseases in the United States after the common cold and flu. STDs can affect anyone. Some STDs can be cured, while some cannot. None may be dismissed as harmless.

Here is a brief summary of some of the more dangerous STDs.



There's a lot of hype about how risky it is to have unprotected sex. What are the real odds of catching a disease?
The real answer to your question is that it depends on which disease is being transmitted and who it's being transmitted to. The odds are as high as 50 percent in some cases. For example, if a woman has unprotected sex with a man who has gonorrhea, she has a 50 percent risk of becoming infected. In the opposite case, the risk is 30 percent. In fact, in nearly all cases, women are more likely to become infected by carrying males than men are to be infected by carrying females. The risk for younger women and, perhaps, for women who use birth control pills, may be even higher. To worsen the situation, some diseases, such as chlamydia, may not produce symptoms in a man, even though he can pass the disease to his partner.

The statistics look like this:

Risk of Infection (%) from One Unprotected Encounter

 Genital Herpes  30%  30%
 Gonorrhea  25%  50%
 Chlamydia  20%  40%
 Syphilis  20%  30%
 Chancroid  15%  30%
 Genital Warts  10%  10%
 Hepatitis B  5%  10%
 HIV  .9%  1%

You could look at these numbers and figure guys get off lucky. What I see, however, is responsibility. If you fool around and get infected, the odds of you infecting your spouse are very high, with potentially devastating effects. Either of you could become sterile, and your partner may suffer from chronic severe pain or develop cervical cancer. The days are over when sexually transmitted diseases were minor health problems that could be cured with a dose of antibiotics. Only two of the eight on this list respond readily to medication, and even those are developing resistance. Today, the old saying that a one-night stand can last a lifetime has more than one meaning.

Monogamy is the best form of disease protection, but if you wander, cover up.

How do I prevent sexually transmitted diseases?

  1. Limit your number of sexual partners.
  2. Avoid sex with people you don't know well or people who have multiple partners.
  3. Always use condom and spermacide, regardless of the need for contraception.
  4. Avoid sex with people who are being treated for a sexual disease.
  5. Avoid sexual contact with anyone who has visible lesions on the genitalia.
  6. If you are infected with an STD, refrain from sexual activity until treatment has completed.

Is there anything new in treatments for that frustrating sexually transmitted disease, herpes?
Unfortunately, herpes' main calling card—that it's controllable, not treatable—hasn't changed. Once you get it, the painful bumps and flu-like symptoms may recur four to eight times per year for years. (Bear in mind that herpes can be transmitted even when a person has no symptoms.) For most people, the frequency and severity of outbreaks decline over the years, but especially in the early years, medication may be helpful.

Acyclovir (brand name Zovirax) has been around for several years. For people with frequent and severe recurrences, it can be taken regularly, which may reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. More often, it is taken at the onset of symptoms, which reduces their severity.

The disadvantage of acyclovir is that it may need to be taken 5 times per day for 5 to 10 days to reduce symptoms and 1 to 4 times per day to suppress recurrences. The price tag can amount to about $5 per day.

Two newer medications on the market include famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex). Both are effective in combating the symptoms of recurrence. Additionally, recent studies have come out showing that one can reduce the outbreak and even transmission without an outbreak by daily dosing in a prophylactic, or preventative, fashion.

At least four other antiviral therapies are in clinical trials now. You can find out more about them on the Internet at Center Watch - Clinical Trials Listing Service. For the foreseeable future, though, the best herpes therapy is to avoid it in the first place.


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