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Did you know that about half of the sexually active teens and young adults in the Netherlands get an STD before their 25th birthday - and many of them have no idea?

Forgoing sex is the only way to protect yourself 100% from getting an STD or passing one on to someone else. We know this solution is quite drastic. Therefore, with the right information, you can go a long way in protecting yourself.

Since the most common symptom of STDs is not having any symptoms, it's important to get yourself tested and treated as soon as possible. STDs are easy to treat, but if they go unnoticed, they can cause long-term health problems.

 

What is an STD?

An STD is a sexually transmitted disease. This means that they are usually spread through sexual intercourse. HIV, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, some forms of hepatitis, syphilis and trichomoniasis are STDs.

They are among the most common infectious diseases. More than 20 million Dutch have an incurable STD. 5 million new cases are reported every year; half of these infections occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24.

STDs are serious illnesses that must be treated. Some STDs, such as HIV, cannot be cured and can be deadly. Learning more about STIs can help you learn how to protect yourself.

You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can also become infected with trichomoniasis through contact with damp or wet objects such as towels, wet clothes, or toilet seats, although it is usually spread through sexual contact.

HIV and herpes are chronic conditions that can be treated. However, they cannot be cured. Hepatitis B can also become chronic, but it can be treated. You may not realize you have certain STDs until you develop problems with your reproductive organs (making you infertile), vision, heart, or other organs. Having an STD can weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to other infections.

 

What are the causes of an STD?

STDs include just about any type of infection. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are bacterial STDs. Viral STDs include HIV, genital herpes, genital warts (HPV) and hepatitis B. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite.

The germs that cause STDs hide in semen, blood, vaginal secretions and sometimes saliva. Most organisms are spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but some, such as those that cause genital herpes and genital warts, can be spread through skin contact. You can get hepatitis B by sharing personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors, with someone who has it.

 

Types of STDs

Many different types of infections can be sexually transmitted. The most common STDs are described below.

 

Chlamydia

A certain type of bacteria causes chlamydia. It is the most common STD among the Dutch.

Many people with chlamydia don't have any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they often include:

 

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain in the lower abdomen

 

If left untreated, chlamydia can cause:

 

  • infections of the urethra, prostate gland or testicles
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • infertility

 

If a pregnant woman has untreated chlamydia, she can pass it on to her baby during birth. The baby can suffer from the following conditions:

 

  • pneumonia
  • eye infections
  • blindness

Antibiotics can treat chlamydia easily.

 

HPV (human papillomavirus)

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a virus that can be passed from one person to another through intimate skin contact or sexual contact. There are many different strains of the virus. Some are more dangerous than others.

 

The most common symptom of HPV is warts on the genitals, mouth, or throat.

 

Some strains of HPV infection can lead to cancer, including:

 

  • oral cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • penile cancer
  • rectal cancer

 

While most cases of HPV do not become carcinogenic, some strains of the virus are more likely to cause cancer than others.

There is no cure for HPV. However, HPV infections often show themselves on their own. A vaccine is also available to protect against some of the most dangerous strains, including HPV 16 and HPV 18.

 

Syphilis

Syphilis is another bacterial infection. It often goes unnoticed in the early stages.

The first symptom to appear is a small round sore. It can develop on your genitals, anus or mouth. It's painless but highly contagious.

 

Later symptoms of syphilis can include:

  • skin rash
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • headache
  • joint complaints
  • weight loss
  • Hair loss

 

If left untreated, syphilis can cause:

 

  • loss of sight
  • hearing loss
  • amnesia
  • mental illness
  • infections of the brain or spinal cord
  • a heart condition
  • passing away

 

Fortunately, if diagnosed early enough, syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics. However, a serious infection in a newborn can be fatal. This is why it is important that all pregnant women are screened for syphilis.

 

The sooner syphilis is diagnosed and treated, the less damage it does.

 

HIV

HIV can damage the immune system and increase the risk of other viruses or bacteria and certain cancers. If left untreated, it can lead to stage 3 HIV, more commonly known as AIDS. However, with current treatment, many people living with HIV never develop AIDS.

In the early or acute stages, it is easy to confuse the symptoms of HIV with those of the flu. For example, the early symptoms can include:

 

  • fever
  • chills
  • pains
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vote result

 

These first symptoms usually disappear within a month. From then on, a person can carry HIV undetected for several years without developing severe or persistent symptoms. Other people can develop nonspecific symptoms, such as:

 

  • recurring fatigue
  • fevers
  • headaches
  • stomach problems

 

There is no cure for HIV yet, but there are treatment options to manage it. Early and effective treatment can help people with HIV live as long as people without HIV.

Proper treatment can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission to a sexual partner. In fact, treatment can potentially lower the amount of HIV in your body to an undetectable level. For example, HIV cannot be passed on to other people.

 

Without routine testing, many people don't realize they have HIV. To facilitate early diagnosis and treatment, it is recommended that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once. People at high risk for HIV should get tested at least once a year, even if they don't have any symptoms.

 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another common bacterial STD.

Many people with gonorrhea don't develop symptoms. But when they are present, the symptoms can also include:

  • a white, yellow, beige, or green-colored discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • urinating more often than usual
  • itching around the genitals
  • sore throat

 

If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause:

 

  • infections of the urethra, prostate gland or testicles
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • infertility

 

Also be aware that gonorrhea can also infect the throat and be passed on through oral sex. At the moment, one of the major concerns about gonorrhea and its treatment is that antibiotic resistance may develop.

 

It is possible for a mother to pass on gonorrhea to a newborn during delivery. When that happens, gonorrhea can cause serious health problems in the baby. That's why many doctors encourage pregnant women to get tested and treated for possible STDs.

Gonorrhea can usually be treated with antibiotics.

 

Pubic lice

Pubic lice are tiny insects that can lodge in your pubic hair. Like head lice and body lice, they feed on human blood.

 

Common symptoms of pubic lice are:

  • itching around the genitals or anus
  • small pink or red bumps around the genitals or anus
  • mild fever
  • lack of energy
  • irritability

You may also see tiny white lice eggs around the roots. A magnifying glass can help to see them.

If left untreated, pubic lice can spread to other people through skin contact or shared clothing, bedding, or towels. It is best to treat pubic lice infestations immediately.

If you have pubic lice, you can use an over-the-counter treatment and tweezers to remove them from your body. It is also important to clean your clothes, bed linen, towels and home.

 

Trichomoniasis

It is caused by a small protozoan organism that can be transmitted from one person to another through genital contact.

According to studies, one third of people can develop Trichomoniasis. When symptoms develop, they can occur as:

 

  • discharge from the vagina or penis
  • burning or itching around the vagina or penis
  • pain or discomfort during urination or sex
  • frequent urination

 

In women, the discharge often has an unpleasant or "fishy" odor.

 

If left untreated, trich can lead to:

 

  • infections of the urethra
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • infertility

 

Trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics.

 

Herpes

Herpes is the short name for the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two main strains of the virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both can be sexually transmitted. It's a very common STD. It is estimated that 1 in 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49 years have herpes in the Netherlands.

HSV-1 mainly causes oral herpes, which is responsible for cold sores. However, HSV-1 can also be passed from one person's mouth to another during oral sex. When this happens, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes.

 

HSV-2 mainly causes genital herpes.

 

The most common symptom of herpes is blisters. In the case of genital herpes, these sore spots develop on or around the genitalia. In oral herpes, they develop on or around the mouth.

These sores usually heal within a few weeks. The first outbreak is usually the most painful. Outbreaks usually become less painful and frequent over time.

If a pregnant woman has herpes, she may be able to pass it on to her fetus in the womb or to her newborn during delivery. This so-called congenital herpes can be very dangerous for newborns. Hence, it is beneficial for pregnant women to become aware of this condition.

There is no cure for herpes yet. However, medications are available to control outbreaks and relieve pain in Herpes patients. The same medications can also lower your chances of passing herpes on to your sexual partner.

Effective treatment and safe sexual practices can help you live a comfortable life with herpes and protect others from the virus.

 

Who is at increased risk?

Both men and women are equally at risk for STDs, but the complications are often more serious for women, including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and fetal abnormalities. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause female sterility if left untreated. In addition, every STD increases the risk of getting HIV.

The primary risk factor for an STD is unprotected sexual intercourse or contact. It's important to know that all people with an STD have no symptoms. The highest risk lies in certain groups, including:

 

  • Those with multiple sex partners or whose partners have sex with others
  • Persons in non-monogamous relationships who do not use condoms during sex and their partners
  • People with a history of STDs
  • Commercial sex workers
  • Drug users, especially those who drink and use injectable drugs, as they tend to engage in risky sexual behavior
  • Young people
  • Men taking medicines for erectile dysfunction
  • Children of infected mothers

 

Diagnosis

In most cases, doctors cannot diagnose STDs based on the symptoms alone. If your doctor or another health care provider suspects you may have an STD, they will likely recommend that you get tests.

Depending on your sexual history, your health care provider may recommend testing for STDs even if you have no symptoms. This is because in many cases STDs don't cause noticeable symptoms. But even symptom-free STDs can cause harm or be passed on to other people.

Health care providers can diagnose most STDs using a urine or blood test. They can also take a swab of your genitalia. If you have developed ulcers, they may also take a smear from them.

You can get tested for STDs at your doctor or a health clinic.

Home test kits are also available for some STDs, but they are not always reliable. Use them with caution. Make sure the test kit is nationally approved before purchasing.

If you've had any kind of sex, it's a good idea to ask your healthcare provider about STI testing. Some people may benefit from more frequent examinations than others. Find out if you should get tested for STDs and what the tests involve.

 

Therapy

Treatable STDs

Many STDs can be cured. For example, the following STDs can be cured with antibiotics or other treatments:

 

  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital Warts
  • Trichomoniasis

 

Untreatable STDs

Others cannot be healed. For example, the following STDs are currently incurable:

 

  • HPV
  • HIV
  • Herpes

 

But even if an STD can't be cured, it can still be managed. It is still important to make an early diagnosis. Treatment options are often available to relieve symptoms and reduce the chance that you will pass the STD to someone else.

The recommended treatment for STDs varies, depending on the STD you have. It is very important that you and your sexual partner are successfully treated for STDs before resuming sexual activity.

 

Bacterial STDs

Most of the time, antibiotics can easily treat bacterial infections.

It's important to take all of your antibiotics as prescribed. Keep taking them even if you feel better before you finish taking all antibiotics. Let your doctor know if your symptoms don't go away or come back after taking all of your prescription medications.

 

Viral STDs

Antibiotics cannot treat viral STDs. While most viral infections are incurable, some can clear on their own. And in many cases, treatment options are available to relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission.

For example, drugs are available to reduce the frequency and severity of herpes outbreaks. Treatment can also help stop the progression of HIV. In addition, antivirals can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to someone else.

 

Other STDs

Some STDs are not caused by viruses or bacteria. Instead, they are caused by other tiny organisms. Examples of this are:

 

  • Pubic lice
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Scabies

 

These STDs are usually treatable with oral or topical medications. Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider for more information about your condition and treatment options.

 

STD prevention

Avoiding sexual contact is the only surefire way to prevent STIs. But if you're having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, there are ways to make it safer.

When used properly, condoms provide effective protection against many STDs. For optimal protection it is important to use condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex.

 

Condoms are generally effective at preventing STDs from spreading through fluids, such as semen or blood. But they cannot fully protect against STDs that spread from skin to skin. If your condom doesn't cover the infected area of ​​the skin, you can still contract an STD or pass it on to your partner.

Condoms can not only help protect against STDs, but also against unwanted pregnancy.

In contrast, many other types of contraceptives reduce the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, but not STIs.

Regular screening is a good idea for anyone who is sexually active. It is especially important for people with a new partner or multiple partners. Early diagnosis and treatment can help stop the spread of infection.

Before having sex with a new partner, it is important to discuss your sexual history. You should also both be screened for STDs by a doctor. Because STDs often don't have symptoms, testing is the only way to know for sure if you have one.

When discussing the results of STI tests, it is important to ask your partner what they were tested for. Many people assume their doctor has screened them for STDs as part of their regular care, but that's not always the case. You should ask your doctor for specific STD tests to make sure they are performed.

If your partner tests positive for an STD, it's important that they follow their healthcare provider's recommended treatment plan. You can also ask your doctor about strategies for protecting yourself from getting an STD from your partner.

 

Living with having an STD

If you test positive for an STD, it's important to get treatment as soon as possible.

If you have an STD, it can often increase your chances of getting another STD. Some STDs can also have serious consequences if left untreated. In rare cases, untreated cases can even be fatal.

Fortunately, most STDs are very treatable. In some cases they can be completely cured. In other cases, early and effective treatment can help relieve symptoms, reduce the risk of complications, and protect sexual partners.

In addition to taking prescription medications for STDs, your doctor may advise you to change your sexual habits to help protect yourself and others. For example, they will recommend that you avoid sex until you have been treated effectively. When you resume sex, they will likely encourage you to use condoms or other forms of protection.

Following your doctor's recommended treatment and prevention plan can help improve your long-term outlook with STDs.