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Section I–Common Health Problems - STDs/HIV

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that
pass from one person to another through sexual contact (e.g., vaginal, anal,
and oral sex, and genital-to-genital contact).

Seventy-five percent of STDs are acquired in persons who
range in age from 15 to 24 years old.

Common STDs in the U.S. are: Chlamydia; genital herpes;
gonorrhea; hepatitis B; HIV/AIDS; human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of
genital warts; and trichomoniasis. The most common ones among college
students are chlamydia and HPV.

Cases of syphillis, another STD, have reached an all time
low. For information on this STD, access

More than 1 STD can be present at the same time. Some can
be present without symptoms. If you are sexually active or have ever had sex
without adequate “barrier” protection (e.g. latex or polyurethane condom),
you could have an STD and not even know it.

Signs, Symptoms & Causes


Chlamydia is caused by different strains of the bacterium chlamydia

About 25 percent of males have
few or no symptoms, but can still transmit the disease.
Symptoms may show up 2 to 4 weeks after infection and
include: Watery, mucous discharge from the penis; burning or discomfort when
urinating; and pain in the scrotum.

Seventy-five percent of females
have few or no symptoms, but can still transmit the disease.
When present, symptoms show up 2 to 4 weeks after infection
and include: Slight yellowish-green vaginal discharge; vaginal irritation or
pain or burning feeling when urinating; abdominal pain; and abnormal vaginal
bleeding. In females, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID),
which can cause infertility. (See
"Pelvic Inflammatory Disease" (PID))

Genital Herpes

The Herpes simplex virus (type 1 or type 2) causes genital herpes.
Type 1 often affects the oral area, showing up as cold sores, but can affect
the genital area, too. Type 2 usually affects the genital area, upper
thighs, and area near the anus, but can also affect the oral area. The virus
is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact from the site of infection to the
contact site, but can also be spread during periods where there are no
noticeable symptoms. Oral sex can spread herpes from the mouth to the
genital area and from the genital area to the mouth.

Signs and symptoms (which may
appear as early as 2 to 20 days after contact) include:

Itching, irritation, and tingling in the
genital area 1 to 2 days before the blisters appear

Painful blisters and/or sores on the genital
area, anus, and thighs and/or buttocks

After a few days, the blisters break open and
leave painful, shallow ulcers, which can last from 5 days to 3

With outbreaks, especially the first one, there may be
flu-like symptoms (swollen glands, fever, body aches). Subsequent outbreaks
are usually milder and shorter. Stress, fatigue, illnesses, vigorous sexual
intercourse, sunburn, etc. may trigger outbreaks.

Using a latex or polyurethane barrier (condom, dental dam,
etc.) when you have sex or skin-to-skin contact may help prevent
transmission, but this is not guaranteed.

The sores may be located on skin areas not covered by the
latex or polyurethane barrier. The virus can also be transmitted when sores
are not present. This is known as “viral shedding.”


Gonorrhea is also called “the clap,” “dose,” or “drip.” It is caused by a
specific bacterial infection. If not treated, it can spread to joints,
tendons, or the heart. In females, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease
(PID), which is directly linked to infertility in females. (See "PID".)

Sixty to 80% of females have no
If symptoms are present, they appear 2 to 10 days
after infection and include: Mild vaginal itching and burning; thick,
yellow-green vaginal discharge; abnormal vaginal bleeding; burning when
urinating; and severe pain in lower abdomen.

In males, signs and symptoms
Pain at the tip of the penis; pain and burning
during urination; and a thick, yellow, cloudy, penile discharge that
gradually increases.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes liver inflammation. The virus can be
contracted from contact with infected blood or bodily fluids (e.g., having
sex and/or sharing drug needles with an infected person, exposure to
infected blood through cuts, open sores, and unsterilized instruments used
for body piercing).

Sharing razors with an infected person and exposure to an
infected person’s saliva may transmit the virus. Hepatitis B is not spread
through food or water or by casual contact.

Three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent getting this
virus. Consult your health care provider if you have not yet received this

Some persons have no symptoms.
When symptoms first occur, they are flu-like (fatigue, fever,
appetite loss, nausea and vomiting, and joint pain).

Later, symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, and pale,
clay-colored stools.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS, acquired immune
deficiency syndrome, is caused by HIV. HIV destroys the body’s immune
system leaving a person unable to fight off diseases. The virus also
attacks the central nervous system causing mental and neurological

HIV is spread when body fluids, such as semen and blood,
pass from an infected person to another person. Usually, the virus is
spread by sexual contact or by sharing drug needles. It can also be
passed from an infected female to her baby during childbirth or

You cannot get HIV from donating blood, touching, hugging, or social
(dry) kissing a person with HIV. You cannot get HIV from a cough, a
sneeze, tears, sweat, or from using a hot tub, telephone, or restroom.

cannot get HIV from hugging a person with HIV

Early symptoms of HIV/AIDS:


Loss of appetite

Chronic diarrhea

Weight loss

Persistent dry cough


Night sweats

Swollen lymph nodes

Persons with AIDS are susceptible to many
diseases, such as skin infections, fungal infections, tuberculosis,
pneumonia, and cancer. These “opportunistic” infections are what lead to
death in an AIDS victim. When HIV invades the brain, it leads to
forgetfulness, impaired speech, trembling, and seizures.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - Genital Warts
About 25 types of HPV can infect the genital area. Only a few types
cause genital warts. Other types increase the risk for cervical cancer.

Often, there are no clearly
visible signs or symptoms.
Genital warts are often
skin-colored, do not hurt, and may be located inside the vagina or the head
of the penis, or in the anus. This makes them hard to see. To find out if
you have genital warts, a health care provider can put a solution of acetic
acid (vinegar) on the genitals.

HPV is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during
vaginal, anal, or (rarely) oral sex with an infected partner. You don’t get
genital warts from touching warts on other parts of the body, such as the
feet or hands.

Genital warts can appear several weeks after being infected
or may not show up for months or even years. It is difficult, then, to know
when the virus was contracted and which partner was the carrier.

Certain types of HPV have been associated almost
exclusively with the precancerous form of cervical cancer and the cancer

To lower your risk for getting HPV, use latex or
polyurethane condoms, which are most likely to cover potentially affected
areas of the body. (A diaphragm will not prevent transmission.)


Trichomoniasis is caused by a protozoan, not by bacteria or a virus.

In females, the protozoan can be present
in the vagina for years without causing symptoms.
If they do occur,
typical symptoms include:

Vaginal itching and burning
A yellow-green or grey vaginal discharge
with an odor
Burning or pain when urinating
Painful sexual intercourse

In males, symptoms are not usually
Males may infect their sexual partners and not know it. When
present, symptoms include:

Discomfort when urinating
Pain during intercourse
Irritation and itching of the penis


Call your health care provider, your school’s Health Service, or the
National STD Hotline (800.227.8922) to find out how to get tested for STDs.
Testing may be free at your college’s Health Service. Treatment depends on
proper diagnosis.

For Chlamydia:

Oral antibiotics for the infected person
and his or her partner(s)

Avoiding sex until treatment is
completed in the infected person and his or her partner(s)

For Genital Herpes:

There is no cure. Symptoms occur,
though, only during flare-ups.

Oral antiviral medicines (e.g.
acyclovir, valacyclovir). These are used to shorten the duration of
outbreaks and to prevent them.

Self-care measures listed

your health care
provider's advise.

For Gonorrhea:

Pain relievers
Treating sexual partner(s) to avoid
Follow-up cultures to determine if the
treatment was effective

For Hepatitis B:

Self-care measures

Medication may be prescribed for chronic

While most people with this type recover, up
to 10% can become chronic. (The person can spread the infection even though
he or she has no symptoms.) This type can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and
liver failure in some persons.


Medications. These drugs are often used in
multidrug combinations.
Treating infections, such as pneumonia

For HPV (Genital

The warts can be treated with topical
creams or a gel prescribed by a doctor. You apply these yourself.

The warts can be removed medically by
cryosurgery (freezing them); an acidic chemical that burns them; or
laser surgery.

Females who've had HPV need a Pap test
as often as advised by their health care providers to check for cervical
cancer. They should also not smoke.

For Trichomoniasis:

The oral medication metronidazole (Flagyl).
{Note: Don’t drink alcohol for 24 hours before, during, and 24 hours
after taking metronidazole. The combination causes vomiting, dizziness,
and headaches.}

Treating sexual partners to prevent
re-infection and spreading the infection further

Questions to Ask

Do you test positive for HIV or do you have signs
and symptoms of any STD listed in this topic?

Do you already have a diagnosis of genital herpes
and do you have severe pain and blistering and/or are you having
frequent outbreaks?

Are you symptom-free, but worried about having
contracted an STD from someone you suspect may be infected?

Do you want to rule out an STD because you have
had multiple sex partners and you are considering a new sexual
relationship, planning to get married or pregnant?

Do genital sores appear only after a recently
prescribed medicine?



Sexually transmitted diseases need medical
care. Along with medical care, do the following:

For Genital Herpes:

If prescribed an antiviral medicine
(e.g., acyclovir, valacyclovir), take it as directed.
Bathe the affected area twice a day
with mild soap and water. Pat dry with a towel or use a hair dryer
set on warm. Using a colloidal oatmeal soap or bath may be soothing.
Use a sitz bath to soak the affected
area. Get a sitz bath basin from a medical supply or drug store.
Apply ice packs on the affected
genital area for 5 to 10 minutes to relieve itching and swelling.
Wear loose fitting pants or skirts.
Don’t wear pantyhose. Wear cotton (not nylon) underwear.
If pain is made worse when you
urinate, squirt tepid water near the urinary opening while urinating
or urinate while using a sitz bath.
Take a mild pain reliever.
Ask your doctor about using a local
anesthetic ointment, such as lidocaine, during the most painful part
of an outbreak.
Wash your hands if you touch the
blisters or sores. To avoid spreading the virus to your eyes, don’t
touch your eyes during an outbreak.
To avoid spreading the virus to
others, use latex barriers during sex and skin-to-skin contact.

For Hepatitis B:

Rest. Drink at least 8 glasses of
fluids a day.
Avoid alcohol and any drugs or
medicines that affect the liver, such as acetaminophen.
Follow a healthy diet. Take vitamin
and mineral supplements as advised by your health care provider.
Use latex condoms during sexual
intercourse to help avoid spreading the virus.


Medical care, not self-care alone, is needed to treat
HIV/AIDS. Self-care measures include:

Taking steps to reduce the risk of getting
infections and diseases:

  • Get adequate rest and proper nutrition. Take vitamin
    supplements as advised by your doctor.
  • Get emotional support. Join a support group. Also ask your
    family and friends for support.

For Information, Contact

CDC National AIDS Hotline (NAH)
800.342.AIDS (342.2437)  –  English
800.344.7432  –  Spanish

American Social Health Association (ASHA)

CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN)

CDC National STD Hotline
800.342.8922  –  English
800.344.7432  –  Spanish

6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005