The term STD stands for ‘sexually transmitted disease.’ They also can be referred to as sexually transmitted infections or STIs. An STD is an infection that can be spread from one person to another via sexual activity, including oral, vaginal or anal sex. STDs are caused by viruses, parasites and bacteria. (1)
HIV is one of many STDs and the most serious. It is spread, like other STDs, by having anal, vaginal or oral sex without a condom with a person who has HIV. It is possible to get HIV if you share drug needles and syringes with a person who has HIV.
HIV attacks your immune system and weakens it. A person with HIV actually has AIDs when the immune system is too weak to fight infections and diseases. There are drugs that can treat the symptoms of HIV, but there is no cure for it or AIDs.
Other common STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, and syphilis. AIDs and less serious STDs are very different; HIV is caused by a virus, while most other STDs are caused by bacteria. HIV can lead to AIDs which is usually fatal. Most other STDs are serious but are not usually fatal, unless left untreated for years.
The Connection Between Other STDs and HIV
HIV is just one of many STDs. The connection between this is that behaviors that put people at higher risk for HIV also boosts their risk for other kinds of STDs. Some of the behaviors that heighten risk are:
- Engaging in any type of sex without a condom
- Engaging in sexual activity with several partners, especially people you do not know
- Engaging in sex while using alcohol or drugs. Doing so can affect your judgement and can increase the risk of developing an STD, including HIV. (2)
Also, having any STD can make getting HIV easier. For instance, various STDs can cause a break or sore in your skin. This can make it easier for HIV to get into your body. Having HIV and another form of STD can boost the risk of transmitting HIV to another person.
Reducing Risk of Getting Any STD
Whether it is HIV or another less serious STD, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting them. Sexual abstinence - which means not having vaginal, anal or oral sex - is the only way to eliminate any risk of getting an STD. But if you are active sexually, you can take these steps to reduce the risk of getting any STD, including HIV:
- Choose sexual behaviors that carry less risk. This means lowering the number of people you have sex with. Also, do not drink or use drugs before and during any sexual activity.
- Use a condom every time you engage in any form of sexual activity. Latex or polyurethane condoms are the most effective to prevent the spread of STDs, including HIV.
How to Prevent the Spread of HIV If You Have It
HIV is the most serious form of STD as it is often fatal in the end stages. You have an obligation to inform your partner if you have HIV, and take steps to ensure you do not spread it. First, you should be taking HIV medicines every day. Proper treatment with these drugs, known as ART or antiretroviral therapy, assists people who have HIV to live longer and healthier.
The major goal of ART is to cut the viral load of the person so it is undetectable. If the viral load is undetectable, it means the HIV level in the blood is not high enough to be seen with a viral load test. People who have HIV and have a viral load that is undetectable have almost no risk of transmitting the disease to their partner who does not have HIV.
STD symptoms will vary based on the type of STD. Also, men and women can have the same STD but different symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include frequent or painful urination, discharge from the penis or vagina, and a fever. But it is important to realize that an STD may present no symptoms early on. Even if you have no symptoms of HIV or another STD, you still can pass it to someone else during sexual activity.
If you are active sexually, it is always wise to be tested for STDs at least once per year. That way, even if you have an STD without symptoms, you can get treated quickly. This also will prevent the STD you did not know about from being passed to your partner. (2)
Treatment Options for STDs
STDs that are due to parasites or bacteria can be treated and cured with medications. There is no cure for HIV or other STDs caused by viruses. But medical treatment can relieve and/or eliminate many symptoms and keep the STD under relative control. Getting treatment also reduces the chances of passing the STD to your partner. For instance, while there is no cure for HIV, ART often prevents HIV from turning into AIDS. It also reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to someone else.
An untreated STD can cause serious health problems. For example, gonorrhea left untreated in a woman can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, and this can cause infertility. If it is not treated, HIV will slowly destroy the immune system and turn into AIDs, which is usually fatal.
Understanding the Differences and Similarities
It is important to understand the differences and similarities between STDs and HIV because populations who have higher rates of STDs, such as African Americans, are more susceptible to HIV. By understanding the connection, people can make better choices about their sexual behaviors and medical treatments. (3)
(1) HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/26/98/hiv-and-sexually-transmitted-diseases--stds-
(2) What You Need to Know About the Links Between HIV and STDs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/consumers/hiv_basics/stds_hiv.htm
(3) STIs and HIV: The Tie and Why It Matters. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.thebodypro.com/article/stis-and-hiv-the-tie-and-why-it-matters