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To your health: The dangerous taboos about sexually transmitted disease

Update: November, 21/2016 - 09:00
Doctor Mathieu Nalpas.—Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice Hanoi
Viet Nam News

By Dr. Mathieu Nalpas*

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a reality of life, but because talking about them remains a taboo, much inaccurate information is also widely transmitted. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that some 340 millions new cases of curable Stds occur annually. In developing countries, they are one on the top five reasons people seek medical care. SouthEast Asia is particularly affected, the result of a flourishing sex industry, massive tourism and ignorance.

In most cases, the disease could have been prevented with simple measures and appropriate behavior.

What are STDs ?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Bacteria include gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Viruses include genital herpes, hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Parasites are responsible for trichomoniasis and pubic lice.

Common symptoms - which may occur alone or in combination - include abnormal genital discharge, burning sensation when urinating, persistent pelvic pain, bleeding after intercourse or between periods, warts, itchiness, rashes and sores in the genital or anal areas, swollen lymph glands in the groin and sudden fever. STDs do not always have symptoms. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can be active and still not show any symptoms.

Untreated STDs can result in infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, birth defects, chronic liver conditions. Untreated HIV infection can lead to AIDS and death.

The sooner STDs are diagnosed, the easier and more effective the treatment is. Late diagnosis and treatment can lead to serious complications and difficulties recovering.

How to protect oneself ?

Bacteria and viruses can be found in sperm, vaginal secretions, saliva, pus and blood. they can be found in the genitals and in the body’s mucous membranes (throat, penis, vagina, rectum).

Transmission of STDs occurs during unprotected sex with a partner carrying the infection. The partner can be symptomatic or not, meaning that he or she can be sick without feeling ill or showing signs of infection.

Vaginal, anal and oral sex can lead to STDs, whether there is penetration or not. Simple contact between the mucous membranes is enough for transmission of some STDs.

Protected sex means avoiding contact between sperm, vaginal secretions, blood and vaginal, anal or oral mucous membranes. Some STDs are transmitted when kissing or touching the genital areas (genital herpes, hepatitis B).

Condoms are an effective form of protection when used properly. Young people must be educated about contraceptive methods and how to use condoms. The challenge is to reduce new STD infections and also to reduce teenage pregnancy.

Condoms should be used even in oral sex. If not, it is important to make sure there are no wounds or sores in the mouth, the penis, the vagina or the anus.

How to get tested ?

Being tested for STDs is easy: a blood test, urine analysis, and a vaginal smear for women. Confidentiality must continue to be the number one priority of health care facilities proposing those tests.

How to be cured ?

Treatment of STDs is often simple and short. For exemple, only one shot of antibiotics for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Treatment can last a few days, sometimes a few months (hepatitis B). People living with HIV have to be on medications all their life. A safe and effective vaccine is proposed and recommended to prevent the hepatitis B infection.

Most STDs can be cured without complications if they are diagnosed in time. Others, like HIV, can be treated and controlled. A person living with HIV will have a normal life if taking treatment properly every day. HIV is now considered a chronic disease. It is also important to fight ignorance and stigmatization. As far as HIV is concerned, stigmatization and fear are still very strong and are affecting vulnerable population like sex workers and intraveinous drug users.

Someone infected with a STD must be responsible and inform his or her partner so that they, too, can be treated on time and the chain of further contamination will be shortened.

One STD can hide another STD. They fragilize the mucous and facilitate transmission of infectious diseases. An untreated STD can be an "open door" for HIV or other STDs. That is why, denial is the worst attitude, even if there is no obvious symptoms of disease.

According to a study published in 2002, one third of all men aged 18-55 in Hà Nội have had sex with a female sex worker, and approximately only one third of them used a condom. It would be interesting to have more recent data so as to compare with today’s behavior.—Family Medical Practice Hanoi


*Doctor Mathieu Nalpas works as a General Practitioner at Family Medical Practice Hanoi - a branch of Family Medical Practice Vietnam. For more advice on medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi on 298 Kim Mã, Ba Đình or call (04) 3843 0748. Email:





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