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Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)

Nurses encounter patients with various health concerns. As the foremost professional that the patients and their families will interact with, learning about their health needs is crucial to the role of a nurse. It is also crucial to provide adequate education to patients regarding their health concerns to improve patient outcomes and improve patients’ understanding of their health conditions. One of the most common health issues that a nurse may encounter is sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

As the name suggests, these are diseases transmitted through sexual contact. Despite increasing awareness about them, STDs remain a major public health concern due to their impact on individuals and the public health system. According to the CDC, one in five Americans suffer from STDs, and these diseases are most prevalent in people between the ages of 15 and 30.  Your ability to recognize symptoms and educate patients on prevention is crucial to fighting the crisis.

This Fast CE For Less guide will explore important facts and information about sexually transmitted diseases.

What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are diseases that result from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These infections occur as a result of sexual contact, and are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that an infected individual transmits to other sexual partners. Many people confuse STIs and STDs to be the same. However, there is a key difference: Not all STIs become STDs. To make the difference easier to understand, you can consider it like this: An STD always begins as an STI, but not every STI turns into an STD.

Sexually transmitted diseases can affect any sexually active person, regardless of their age, sex, or sexual orientation. However, the impact of STDs can be different between males and females, which can also influence the symptoms and long-term health consequences they face.

For instance, women are more likely to experience severe health issues caused by STDs than men. Sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can cause infertility. Men may not experience as many health complications that are caused by STDs, but they are still at risk of serious issues, like urethritis.

Sexually transmitted diseases predominantly affect younger populations between the ages of 15 and 30. This age group is more likely to engage in higher-risk behaviors when it comes to sexual activities, such as unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners. These behaviors increase the chances of getting STIs, leading to a greater risk of developing STDs.

While you will come across older people with STDs, most patients you encounter with STDs will be from a younger age group. Understanding these statistics and basics about STDs is essential to educate patients on timely treatment and how to prevent transmission.

The Types of STDs and What Causes Them

While all STDs develop from infections transmitted through sexual contact, each disease can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

What Causes Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. The infection is particularly prevalent among young adults and teenagers. Chlamydia is known as a “silent” infection because many individuals do not experience symptoms, which can lead to undiagnosed and untreated cases, further spreading the disease.

What Causes Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is also a bacterial infection. The bacteria that cause Gonorrhea is called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It can affect men and women, infecting the genitals, rectum, and throat. Gonorrhea is particularly concerning because it can cause severe and permanent health problems if not treated, yet it too often does not present noticeable symptoms early on.

What Causes Genital Herpes?

Genital Herpes is caused by either herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes simplex virus type 1 is commonly associated with cold sores around the mouth. However, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes if there is oral contact with genitals during sexual activities. Meanwhile, HSV-2 generally causes genital sores that characterize the disease. Herpes is chronic, and even though symptoms can be managed, the virus remains in the body for life.

Each of these STDs is primarily spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Prevention strategies such as using condoms can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

The Symptoms of Common STDs

Treating STDs early is essential to prevent major health consequences. Identifying STDs early means being aware of the various symptoms the diseases have. As a nurse, you must know these signs and symptoms and educate patients so they can identify them and seek professional help if symptoms are experienced. 

What are the Symptoms of Chlamydia?

Chlamydia symptoms can be mild or absent but typically include painful urination and abnormal genital discharge. Women may also experience abdominal pain or bleeding between menstrual periods, while men might have swollen testicles.

What are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea shares some signs with chlamydia, such as painful urination and discharge from the penis or vagina. Additionally, it can cause soreness or redness in the throat for those who have contracted the disease through oral sex. Women might also have increased vaginal bleeding.

What are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?

Genital Herpes manifests as blisters or sores on or around the genitals or rectum. Once the initial outbreak clears, the virus can periodically reactivate, causing recurrent symptoms. This cyclical nature of the disease often requires ongoing management strategies.

Treatments for STDs

Early detection is critical to treat STDs and help patients recover before they develop severe health complications. Depending on the nature and severity of STDs, the treatment to manage and mitigate their long-term effects can vary.

What is the Treatment for Chlamydia?

For Chlamydia, the recommended approach is a course of antibiotics, typically azithromycin or doxycycline. Nurses play a pivotal role in ensuring patients complete their medication regimen, understand the importance of informing their partners, and follow up for re-testing to prevent reinfection.

What is the Treatment for Gonorrhea?

Treatment for Gonorrhea has become more complex due to emerging antibiotic resistance. The current recommendation is a dual therapy approach, which includes ceftriaxone and azithromycin. Nurses are essential in administering these treatments, monitoring side effects, and providing education on the importance of adherence to treatment protocols.

What is the Treatment for Genital Herpes?

Genital Herpes requires a management strategy focused on symptom relief and reducing viral shedding to decrease transmission risk. Antiviral medications like acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir are commonly prescribed. Nurses must educate patients on the chronic nature of herpes and the necessity of ongoing medication management, especially during flare-ups.

How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases

For any disease, prevention is always the best cure. Despite increasing awareness of sexual health and well-being, the high prevalence of STIs and STDs means it is still a major public health concern. The first and foremost way to prevent STDs is to educate the general public about safer sexual practices.

One of the most important strategies to prevent STDs is consistently using condoms. As a nurse, you must educate patients about using condoms and how they significantly reduce the risk of most STIs, preventing STDs. Many people believe in myths about their effectiveness. Educating patients on the efficacy of condoms and how their use can help prevent STDs plays a major role in reducing the rate pf transmission.

If you have not completed your nursing continuing education requirements to renew your license and want to learn more about providing care for your patients, online nursing CEUs offered by Fast CE For Less can help.

To access flexible and affordable nursing continuing education courses and state bundles, visit www.fastceforless.com.

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