Living with Incurable STDs
Learning that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can certainly be a scary prognosis. Each infection comes with its own symptoms, levels of pain, and treatment options if they are available. Plus there’s always the task of telling your partner that you have a condition that could affect them too. Whether you think you have an STD or your doctor has confirmed it, it’s important that you learn as much as possible about your particular condition and whether or not there are treatment options to lessen or alleviate your symptoms.
Before we discuss incurable STDs, it’s important to note that any person that is sexually active is at risk of contracting STDs making it that much more pertinent that you educate yourself and practice safe sex every single time.
Incurable STDs and Treatment Options
There are sexually transmitted diseases that can be cured with antibiotics and medication but here we have compiled a list of those that stay with you for the rest of your life.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is probably the most well-known of all STDs and is a chronic disease that severely attacks the infected person’s immune system. If left untreated, it can develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). With the development of AIDS comes a significant decline in your immune system’s ability to fight even the most minor infections, the common cold for example.
HIV is spread through bodily fluids and can progress and spread quite rapidly through three stages:
- Acute HIV infection: This refers to the first two to four week period after a person has been infected during which he or she is highly contagious exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Some people experience no symptoms at all or assume it is the flu, which is why it’s important that you get tested if you think you’ve been exposed.
- Clinical latency: During this stage, the virus is still present and reproducing at a slow rate which can lead to the person feeling just fine. A person could live in this stage for several decades if he or she is undergoing proper treatment, lowering their chances of infecting someone else.
- AIDS: In this last stage, the immune system is so damaged that they’re unable to fight off even the most minor illness. When left untreated, AIDS typically leaves those infected with just three years to live.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the best medication to treat HIV and consists of a daily cocktail of several prescription pills. When taken every day, the medication can drastically prolong the life of someone affected by HIV, relieving their symptoms and lowering the chance of infecting others. With the introduction of the medication in the mid-90s, someone with HIV could live nearly as long as someone not affected by the virus.
Hepatitis has five different varieties but type B is most commonly spread through sex and results in a liver infection. It’s the primary cause of liver cancer or cirrhosis (liver failure). Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine but patients that contract the chronic infection have it for life. It’s highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine. Protect yourself with the Hep B vaccine and by practicing safe sex.
Hepatitis B generally goes away on its own in four to eight weeks with symptoms often not manifesting and doctors recommending you rest, eat well, and drink plenty of fluids. However, one in 20 people who get it as adults become carriers, which means they will have chronic hepatitis B and will have the disease for life, although there are medications a doctor can provide to help treat it.
While HIV may be the most well-known and feared STD, Human Papillomavirus is the most common. According to the CDC, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected and nearly all sexually active men and women will contract HPV at some point in their lives. The problem with HPV and part of the reason that it’s so widespread is that the virus often goes undetected. Your partner may not show any symptoms and yet they can still pass the virus through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
This virus is one of the reasons that your annual exam is so important as abnormal cells in your cervix can indicate HPV or cervical cancer so make sure you’re scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist every year.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for prevention. If you develop genital warts as a result of the virus, doctors may prescribe topical medicine or you can have them removed. If your doctor has detected cervical precancer as a result of your pap smear, prevention may still be possible if detected in its early stages.
Herpes is another virus that manifests in more than one type: there’s herpes simplex 1 which usually lives in the mouth in the form of cold sores and herpes simplex 2 which lives around the genitals. During an outbreak, fluid-filled blisters will appear and eventually break, causing painful sores for about two weeks.
According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes but over 80% of people with genital herpes are unaware that they have it. Herpes can be contracted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and transmission is possible even without the presence of visible sores.
If you are pregnant and think you might have been exposed to the herpes virus, you must let your OB-GYN know as soon as possible. The infection could result in a miscarriage, premature delivery, or neonatal herpes which can be fatal.
Because sores often exist on the skin on and around the genital area, condoms are not 100% effective in protecting a person from contracting herpes, making it extremely important that you get tested.
Gonorrhea does respond to medicine, however, there is a fast-growing strain that is resistant to the antibiotic regimen long-used to treat gonorrhea. About 820,000 people get gonorrhea infections in the US each year. A person with gonorrhea may show no signs but symptoms can include discharge from the vagina or penis, vaginal bleeding between periods, painful or swollen testicles, and a painful, burning sensation when urinating.
If you get tested and discover that you have gonorrhea, your doctor will prescribe a treatment that involves two different drugs to stop the infection. This treatment cannot undo any permanent damage that the disease might have caused up to this point. But as we stated earlier, the CDC says that the new drug-resistant strains threaten the medication’s effectiveness. If you find that your symptoms continue even after receiving treatment, it’s important that you inform your doctor immediately.
Managing Incurable STDs
In addition to seeking proper treatment, it’s also important to seek proper support. Ignoring a sexually transmitted disease won’t make it go away; in fact, it could cause irreversible damage to your internal organs. In addition to that physical damage, it can also cause a substantial amount of stress. You may want to seek counseling or a support group and you should know there’s no shame in doing either; it’s important that you don’t feel isolated while going through treatment.
And if you are sexually active and have not been tested recently, you should do so. After all, many STDs don’t have any symptoms and 50% of the population will have contracted one by the time they’re 25.
If you potentially have been exposed to an STD, getting tested is the only way to know for sure and take steps to seek treatment. We don’t want you to take any risks when it comes to your health. To schedule your annual appointment with Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, click here.