If not treated properly, sexually transmitted diseases can be dangerous, and in some cases even deadly. And for this reason, it’s always a good idea to take proper precautions and practice safe sex with any current or future sexual partners. Thankfully, many STDs are treatable and even curable in some instances and scientists are making groundbreaking advances on these fronts continuously in hopes that STDs will one day be eradicated entirely. While we’re not quite there yet, three common diseases are preventable by way of STD vaccines (with hopefully more available in the years to come). Currently, vaccinations are available to prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV.
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease caused by the ingestion of infected fecal matter by way of unwashed food or a contaminated water supply (although oral and anal sexual acts have been known to cause the spread of the virus as well). Symptoms can include some or all of the following: fever, bodily discomfort, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, dark-colored urine, and jaundice. In the most severe cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and even death, though these cases are rare. Typically, an infected individual will show symptoms for sometimes up to several weeks and develop a lifelong immunity once the virus has run its course. Hepatitis A is most common in countries with historically poor sanitary conditions and hygienic standards. Washing food thoroughly and washing your hands with soap and water after using the restroom is key in preventing the spread of the disease as well.
The hepatitis A vaccine was first introduced in 1995 as a preventative measure for hepatitis A in children. For babies, the vaccine is administered around the child’s first birthday with a booster shot approximately six months later. The vaccine is available to anyone choosing to receive it, though it is suggested that the following groups do get vaccinated: anyone traveling abroad to regions in which the disease is prevalent, men who have sex with men, anyone with liver disease, or any users of street drugs. NOTE: The hepatitis A vaccine cannot cause the recipient to contract the disease as the vaccine does not include the live virus.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) which is contracted through the exchange of bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids, saliva) and can be transmitted sexually or through sharing items that can transport the virus from one person to another (syringes, tattoo or piercing needles, razors, toothbrushes, etc.). It cannot be passed through casual contact like a handshake or hug or from a mother to a baby through breastfeeding.
The hepatitis B virus first became commercially available in 1982, and since then, has significantly reduced the rate of chronic infection in children worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that all children receive the vaccination as well as any adults who are HIV+ or are at risk of contracting the disease (injection drug users and men who have sex with men are at an increased risk). NOTE: Hepatitis B vaccines are synthetic and contain no traces of the virus, so it is impossible to contract the disease from the vaccine alone.
As the disease can easily be passed from a mother to a baby during birth, it is advised that pregnant women get tested well ahead of their delivery date. With advance notice, doctors can prepare to treat the newborn right away in order to minimize the child’s risk of contracting the disease.
There is currently no cure for hepatitis B but most immune systems can rid the body of the virus naturally. Only about half of people who contract the disease show any symptoms at all and those who do might see symptoms comparable to a cold or flu. Symptoms typically subside after a few days or weeks with nothing more than rest, healthy food, and fluids.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection on record. HPV (short for “human papillomavirus”) is a viral infection that causes skin or mucous membrane growths on the skin and, while most infections are harmless and go away on their own, some can potentially lead to genital warts or even cervical cancer in women. The infection is typically transmitted sexually or through skin-to-skin contact and most people who contract the virus will show no symptoms and it will go away on its own. Though in the cases in which it does not, abnormal cells can be detected and treated well before developing into any type of cancer. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to get tested and see your physician on a regular basis.
While there is no cure for the infection, a vaccine can prevent you from ever contracting it. The HPV vaccine, which has been around since 2006, is available for anyone ages 9 to 45 and it’s recommended that children do get the vaccine early on–even before becoming sexually active. For people 15 and older, the vaccine is administered in three separate shots over the course of six months. For children 9 to 14 years of age, the vaccine is given in two shots, six months apart from one another. This vaccine can run upwards of $250 per dose, but most insurance providers do cover a portion or all of that fee. We suggest consulting with your physician to determine if getting the vaccine will benefit you.