Gender: Sexually Transmitted Diseases: a major health concern

Vaidah Mashangwa
Sexually transmitted Infections (STIs) are a major health concern because of their increase among teenagers and adults.

These are infections spread by sexual contact with an infected person including intimate body contact.

Without medical tests it is impossible to tell whether a person has an STI because even a person who practices good personal hygiene can still have sexual transmitted infections. The more sexual partners a person has, the greater the risk of infection.

Possibly because young people are more likely to have more sexual contacts than older people, 60 percent of all those infected in the world are under the age of 24 years though recently more and more middle aged adults are becoming affected too.

The most severe sexually transmitted infections are gonorrhoea and syphilis. However, there are more than a dozen diseases which can be passed on by sexual contact and these include genital herpes, scabies and genital warts.

It is important for a mother to receive health care services during pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate postnatal period. This is important for the survival and well-being of both the mother and the infant. Antenatal care enables early detection of complications and prompt treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Pregnant women are therefore encouraged to visit clinics and hospitals all the time for antenatal care during pregnancy.

There is also a need to promote safer sexual behaviour in order to reduce HIV infections and STI’s. The issue of behaviour change is still critical.

According to ZimStat 2014 results of a survey conducted indicated that 1.2 percent of women aged 15-49 years reported having sex with more than one partner in the last 12 months.

Of the women who had multiple sexual partners only 49.1 percent reported using a condom when they had sex the last time. In the rural areas 40.6 percent reported having used condoms and 60.1 percent in the urban area had used condoms.

On the other hand, 11 percent of men aged 15-54 years reported having sex with more than one partner in the last 12 months. Among the men who had multiple sexual partners, 42.4 percent reported using a condom when they had sex the last time. Seventy-five percent of men who had never married used condoms compared to 24.6 percent of those who ever married or were in a union.

In terms of gonorrhoea, men have a discharge of pus from the penis and passing urine gives rise to a slight burning on scalding sensation. Within a week of the start of the symptoms, the whole length of the urethra, that is, the tube running from the bladder to the tip of the penis becomes acutely inflamed. In this instance, men are more fortunate than women because these symptoms help show them the need for diagnosis and treatment.

In marked contrast to men, therefore, girls and women with early gonorrhoea usually have no symptoms. The few women with early symptoms complain of abnormal vaginal discharge and in some cases, discomfort on urination. It is unfortunate that a woman unaware that she has the disease may continue to pass the disease to her sexual partner over a long period of time.

Because the first signs of the disease are so slight many women fail to seek early treatment, hence complications of gonorrhoea are more common in women than in men. Abscesses may form at the opening of the urethra or vagina. A more complication in women includes inflammation of the  fallopian tubes.

In men the discharge from the tip of the penis is watery, later it has a white to greenish-yellow colour. If left untreated, gonorrhoea in men may result in the spread of the disease to other internal reproductive organs. Sterility may result. Sterility is the inability to reproduce.

In cases where these symptoms are detected it is important to seek medical help. The most effective treatment for gonorrhoea is a large dose of penicillin. People allergic to penicillin can be given an antibiotic called tetracycline.

Syphilis is far less common than gonorrhoea but it is much more serious. It can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her foetus.

The earliest sign of Syphilis in its primary stage is a sore called a chancre. In males and females, the chancre appears two or four weeks after infection. Most chancres appear around the genital area, but can appear on any part of the body through which the organism entered.

Secondary syphilis will begin one week to six months after a chancre disappears. The disease is spread throughout the body by blood. Symptoms during this period include a pale red or pink rush on the palms and sores, fever, sore throat, muscle pain and weight and hair loss. These symptoms last from three to six months before disappearing.

The next stage of syphilis is the latent stage. During this stage it affects different parts of the body including the brain. Syphilis may remain in this stage for the rest of people’s lives.

For some people it can enter into the tertiary stage or late syphilis. Symptoms at this stage include heart, brain and spinal cord damage. This can lead to paralysis and death.

A pregnant female can infect her unborn child since the pathogens can cross the placenta. This leads to the congenital syphilis which results in bone and tooth deformities as well as kidney damage and other problems in the baby. This can be avoided if a pregnant woman with syphilis is treated before the sixteenth week of pregnancy.

Syphilis can also be treated with penicillin or another type of antibiotic in its primary or secondary stages. In its late stages one may need larger doses of medications over larger periods of time. It is important therefore to visit the doctor once a chancre is detected to avoid complications.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by two different but related forms of a virus known as herpes virus type 1 and herpes virus type II. About 20 percent of genital herpes cases are caused by the virus. It is usually transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person. In some cases genital herpes can be transmitted by kissing or through a cut, rash or sore in the skin.

Signs and symptoms of genital herpes occur within a week after contact. Generally clusters of small painful blisters will appear on the genitals.

After a few days these blisters break and leave small ulcers.

Fever, headache and muscle soreness may occur. Other symptoms include a burning sensation during urination, a discharge from the urethra or vagina and swollen lymph nodes in the groin area.

All these symptoms disappear but the virus stays in the body for the rest of the person’s life. Others will have recurrence of the symptoms while others never have further signs or symptoms. Recurring symptoms may be brought on by stress or illness.

Genital herpes causes two major problems. It can cause a birth defect in the developing baby of a pregnant woman. There appears a link between genital herpes and the cancer of the cervix and vulva. Therefore women who have genital herpes should have a Pap smear and pelvic examination every six months.

It is important to note that there is no cure for genital herpes. There are medications that treat the symptoms but the disease always remains in the body. Persons who suspect that they have an STI should seek immediate treatment.

An infected person’s sexual contacts will also need medical attention. Therefore infected sexual should seek medical attention together.

Vaidah Mashangwa is Bulawayo’s Provincial Development Officer, Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development. She can be contacted on 0772111592. Email: vmashangwa@gmail.com

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