Overview of Major Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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  • 0:01 STDs
  • 0:48 Bacterial STDs
  • 4:07 Viral STDs
  • 8:23 Protozoal and Parasite STDs
  • 9:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

In this lesson, we will discuss the major sexually transmitted diseases and their causative agents. We will also look at symptoms, vaccines that may be available, and possible cures. Learn how to keep yourself healthy by preventing and correctly treating an STD.


You have likely heard about sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, ever since you were a teenager. What you probably remember is that you don't want to contract any STD, and that some STDs can be fatal. But there is a lot more information about STDs that you probably don't know or fully understand. This information could be critical to your health.

There are quite a few STDs that you have to protect yourself from. First, let's make sure you even know what we mean when we say STD. An STD is any disease that can be passed through the act of sex. Sex includes all types of sex, whether it's vaginal, anal, or oral. Now we know exactly what we mean by STD, so let's look at the different major STDs based on the causative agent.

Bacterial STDs

Our first group of major STDs are the ones caused by bacteria. Since these are caused by bacteria, they can all be treated with antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics doesn't prevent future infection with the same STD, though. As a matter of fact, having one STD increases the likelihood that you will catch another STD.

Gonorrhea, commonly called the clap, is an STD caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Both men and women can get this STD. Some of the symptoms are different between men and women, but it is very common for neither to have any symptoms at all.

Symptoms for both may include greenish-yellow discharge, burning sensation when urinating, swollen neck glands, and burning in the throat. Females may also have swelling in the vulva, spotting after sex, and bleeding between periods. Males may experience swollen or painful testes as well. The symptoms may take up to 30 days to appear, but they usually show up within 5-10 days. There are some strains of N. gonorrhoeae that are resistant to antibiotics, which makes some cases of the infection difficult to treat.

Another bacterial STD is chlamydia which is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. This is the most common STD in the US; young adults account for the majority of cases. Most people with this infection do not exhibit any symptoms at all. The most pronounced symptoms that occur when symptoms are present are burning and painful urination and a whitish discharge. The infection can cause infertility in men and women if it is not treated. There is also the possibility that babies can be infected during birth if they are born to an infected mom. The infection will result in eye infections or pneumonia.

The last of the bacterial STDs that we are going to discuss is syphilis. Syphilis has three distinct stages and is caused by Treponema palladium. The first stage may start around 10 to 30 days after becoming infected. The first stage causes the appearance of chancre, or genital ulcers. It may only cause one chancre, or it may cause many. Most people miss the appearance of the chancre and therefore don't know they are infected. The chancre will go away on its own without treatment.

About 90 days to 5 years later, the secondary stage of syphilis will start. This stage is characterized as a rash on the palm of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash usually isn't painful and will go away on its own without treatment. Many people are still not aware that they have syphilis after this stage because the symptoms are mild and disappear. The tertiary, or late stage, syphilis causes lesions on the internal organs including the lungs, liver, and brain. At this point, the infection is often fatal if treatment is not started immediately. Antibiotics at any stage will cure this disease. This is the second most common STD in the US.

Viral STDs

Let's talk about the viral STDs now. Viruses are not able to be cured at this time. There are medications that can help viruses become inactive, but viruses remain in your body once a viral infection occurs. For this reason, prevention of a viral STD is of the utmost importance.

One viral STD that has received a lot of attention since its discovery in 1984 is HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. Most people do not show any signs of infection with HIV until their immune system becomes compromised around ten years after infection. For those that do show symptoms, they are mild and mimic a mild case of the flu. Infection is possible after being exposed to HIV only once, but most people are exposed multiple times before they become infected.

This virus depends on a specific type of immune cell in order to infect the body. About 4% of white people do not have the cell required and are therefore naturally immune to HIV.

Most people are now aware of the next viral infection due to the media attention it received when a new vaccine came out for it. HPV is short for human papillomavirus. There are over 180 strains of HPV, which makes it ubiquitous. This means that almost everyone has at least one strain of this virus inside them. There are about 40 strains that can cause the STD, genital warts.

Genital warts will appear on the genitals and other mucous membranes in the anus and/or mouth. The warts may be tiny and go unnoticed. Genital warts are very contagious and can be caught from one sexual encounter or even from direct contact if sex didn't occur. About half of all sexually active people have genital warts. Each outbreak of genital warts can be treated by medically freezing or burning them off.

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