Venereal Diseases

Most people think of venereal disease as syphilis and gonorrhea. But there are several other sexually transmitted diseases that are as common as these well-known disorders.

Perhaps the subject is “not quite nice” but we live in a permissive society where these diseases are widespread and we should be aware of them.

Gonorrhea has been around since Biblical times. It is spread by sexual contact. The incubation period is between two and 10 days.

The male usually develops a thick discharge from the urethra or tube which passes urine from the bladder.

In the female there may be no symptoms as the infection is usually on the cervix or neck of the womb. If the infection should spread upward it may cause an infection in the fallopian tubes. This may result in fever and severe abdominal pain.

Penicillin is the drug of choice in treatment although some strains have developed resistance to it. However, there are other antibiotics available if the germ is resistant or if the patient is allergic to penicillin.

Early diagnosis is vital in sexually transmitted diseases. Usually it is necessary to take a smear of the discharge, to be examined under a microscope.

It is important to remember that more than one of the venereal diseases may be present at the same time.

Syphilis is by far the most serious of venereal diseases.

Like gonorrhea, it is due to a specific bacterium, usually spread by sexual contact. The incubation period is from nine to 90 days.

The lesion in syphilis is the primary sore. This is a hard, painless lump that develops on the affected part and then breaks down to form an ulcer. It usually occurs on the penis in men but maybe on the lip or in the rectum. In women it may be on the cervix, on the lip or in the rectum.

Syphilis may have three stages. Secondary syphilis develops some 6 to 8 weeks after the primary stage. This usually shows as a generalized rash, but many other tissues and organs also are involved. The mucous membranes of the mouth and other cavities of the body become inflamed and ulcerated.

Secondary syphilis is a highly infectious stage. Tertiary syphilis may develop two or three years later or it may be delayed for as long as 20 years after the initial infection has occurred.

This third stage can affect any part of the body and can mimic so many other diseases that, in the past, all doctors making a diagnosis had to consider whether the symptoms could be due to syphilis.

One problem in treating venereal disease is that syphilis may be present as well as one of the other diseases but, because the incubation period is so long, it does not show.

Now there are special blood tests that can detect if syphilis is present, and many doctors recommend that after treatment for any venereal disease the blood should be checked some weeks later to make sure that the syphilis bacterium has not been incubating.

Once the diagnosis is made treatment is effective with penicillin – or if the patient is allergic to penicillin another antibiotic is used.

The next most common sexually transmitted disease is usually called NSU – or non-specific urethritis. The better term used is NGU – non-gonococcal urethritis. Several different organisms are thought to be responsible for this disorder.

The incubation period is 10 to 14 days. This causes, in males, a thin discharge with only slight discomfort. Many females show no symptoms.

An unpleasant complication of NSU is the condition known as Reiter’s disease. In this, arthritis in several joints may develop. Conjunctivitis or deep inflammation in the eye may also occur.

Trichomonas is a one-celled animal that causes inflammation in the vagina. It is usually spread by intercourse. It has been found that in women with this infection about 60 percent of their partners will have the organism but only about four percent will have symptoms.

The cold sore, common accompaniment to many respiratory infections, is caused by a virus, herpes simplex. There are two varieties of this virus: type 1 which causes the cold sore and type 2 which causes infection in the genital area and is spread sexually.

Besides being uncomfortable this virus infection is dangerous. It is believed to be one of the causes of cancer of the cervix or neck of the womb.

The virus can spread from a woman to her baby in the womb and may cause serious disorders.

Chancroid or soft sore is more common in tropical countries but can occur anywhere in the world. It is also caused by a bacterium. The incubation period is short, three to five days. A red sore develops and then ulcerates. Unlike the single sore of syphilis it is soft, painful, and maybe multiple. The lymph glands enlarge, are painful, and may form a discharging abscess. Chancroid responds to long-term antibiotics.

Finally, we have to consider that cases of hepatitis may be sexually transmitted. It is believed that hepatitis is due to two viruses. Type A was in the past called infectious hepatitis. This is spread by the virus being passed by the feces and then by contamination entering the body through the mouth. Type B was called serum hepatitis because the spread was from the blood. Contamination of syringes or blood transfusion passes on the virus.

The important thing to remember with sexually transmitted diseases is that they are curable. It is necessary to seek treatment early, for the doctor to make the exact diagnosis, and for the patient to follow his instructions. It is also important for the sexual partner to have treatment.

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