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Sexually Transmitted Diseases: What's Your Risk?

Summary & Participants

Among STDs, AIDS has occupied the spotlight for many years now, and for good reason. But other STDs -- like herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis -- are still prevalent, and not to be taken lightly. What do you know about these diseases? How are they spread? What are the symptoms? And how do you keep yourself out of risk? Our panel of experts will answer these questions and more as they discuss the ever-present threat of STDs.

Host: David Folk Thomas
Fox News Channel
Participants:
Brian A. Boyle, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Adam Stracher, MD:
Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, New York Presbyterian Hospital

Webcast Transcript

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Welcome to our webcast. I'm David Folk Thomas. It's the downside of sex: sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs -- chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea. If you're sexually active, you're at risk. It's important to know how to prevent getting infected with an STD and what to do if you should be infected by an STD. Joining us to discuss this topic are two experts. I'm joined by Dr. Adam Stracher -- he's sitting on my left -- and sitting next to Dr. Stracher is Dr. Brian Boyle. They are both attending physicians at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell University Medical Center, and they are both assistant professors in the department of international medicine and infectious diseases at Cornell University Medical College. I need a drink of water. That's a mouthful. Gentlemen, doctors, thanks for joining us today.
We're talking about STDs. Let's just start with a general overview. Dr. Stracher, what is a sexually transmitted disease?

ADAM STRACHER, MD: Sexually transmitted diseases are basically exactly what they sound like.


 

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DAVID FOLK THOMAS: I guess that's why they're called STDs.

ADAM STRACHER, MD: They're diseases that can be transmitted sexually, and they include bacterial and viral and fungal infections that can be transmitted in multiple different ways... from one partner who is infected to a partner who isn't infected.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Dr. Boyle, I mentioned a few of them, but if you could just tick off the more common ones. Of course, we know AIDS is the top most devastating one, but what are the other sexually transmitted diseases?

BRIAN BOYLE, MD: I think as you point out, AIDS is probably the most important sexually transmitted disease that we deal with today, and it's probably the most devastating, but there are many other sexually transmitted diseases: gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis. All, of course, are bacterial diseases that are spread from person to person. There are numerous fungal infections that can also be spread, and there are viral infections, some of which have lifelong consequences associated with them: herpes -- which, once you're infected with, you're infected for life, as is true of most of the viral infections. Other viral infections also occur, CMV -- cytomegalovirus -- is also a sexually transmitted disease. Epstein-Barr virus can be a sexually transmitted disease. While most of us associate hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus with the liver, it also can be effectively transmitted sexually and, in fact, the main way that hepatitis B is spread is sexually.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: In layman's terms, bacterial or viral, what's the difference?

ADAM STRACHER, MD: I think that an important distinction is that, for the most part, viral -- AIDS is a viral infection -- those are much more difficult to treat. They tend to be lifelong infections in many situations. They tend to have no cures, their treatment tends to be less effective, whereas with bacterial infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea and syphilis, while they can be just as devastating, if they're caught in time they can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: AIDS, again -- everybody's been inundated with this, affected by it -- maybe personally, through friends. You read about it every day. Devastating. Has the fact that AIDS has just emerged in the past 20 years or so as such a devastating killer, has that had an effect on having people not take these other STDs seriously, Dr. Boyle?

BRIAN BOYLE, MD: Exactly the opposite, really. Not that they didn't take them seriously, but that they, as a result of the threat of AIDS and contracting HIV -- which is the virus that causes AIDS -- they have taken sexually transmitted diseases much more seriously. If you are at risk of getting HIV, you may be much more cautious about having unprotected sex than if you're not. The disease of the '80s, herpes simplex -- HSV, which is also a viral infection and also lifelong -- was really nothing compared to the consequences and the devastation caused by HIV. But what we saw initially was that we saw the numbers of STDs -- gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia -- decline as people were alerted by HIV and frightened by HIV into using safer sex and using condoms. But as we've seen recently, the numbers are starting to go back up. Many centers track syphilis, and the syphilis numbers and gonorrhea numbers tend to be going back up, which makes many of us worry that perhaps people are not taking the appropriate precautions, they're not taking these diseases seriously enough now.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: Dr. Stracher, is there any rating system, can we put AIDS at the top, as far as the seriousness of the other STDs, whether it be gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes. They're obviously all bad, but would you say this one's worse than that, et cetera?

ADAM STRACHER, MD: I think, as Brian pointed out, HIV, clearly, because of it is such a serious illness and so frequently results in death. Perhaps until recently, it is the number one most concerning and most serious. But I think that I would not rate the others. I think they all are serious infections. I think they all can cause serious disease -- life-threatening disease in some situations -- or have devastating consequences in some situations, so I don't think that I would rate them except to say that they're all serious and important to avoid.

DAVID FOLK THOMAS: How can they be prevented from spreading? Obviously, it's sexual contact. What different types of ways are they spread? Then we'll talk about prevention.

Last Updated: 07 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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