Sexually transmitted infections can cause long term problems for men and women, but early diagnosis is particularly important for females who may acquire infections without necessarily developing symptoms.
Except for HIV/AIDS—which can only be treated to prolong a patient’s life—all STIs are treatable with modern medicine. But a failure to do so can lead to prostate cancer in men and infertility in women.
According to the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Disease, the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases are gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.
Last year, the National Clinic for Dermatology and STD Unit treated approximately 1,500 patients suffering from sexually transmitted infections—1,000 men and 500 women—most of whom were suffering from gonorrhea and chlamydia. Of 3,000 patients tested for HIV, 800 were found to be positive, said Dr Chan Vicheth, clinic director.
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexual transmitted disease in Cambodia and is mostly transmitted through sexual intercourse, including oral sex. The disease develops within three to five days, but not more than a week after infection. Symptoms include pain while urinating and a discharge from the genitourinary tract in men and women, said Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, HIV/AIDS adviser of World Health Organization.
“If you don’t treat this infection, the infection can spread and can produce permanent damage and eventually lead to long-term consequences such as infertility,” Ghidinelli said.
Chlamydia is another common STI that affects both men and women. The incubation period takes between three days to a week and the symptoms are similar to gonorrhea, but milder. Signs of a chlamydia infection include itching and burning while urinating.
The long-term effects of chlamydia can result in pelvic inflammatory disease that can lead to infertility in women, said Dr Francois Crabbe, technical advisor on STI management at NCHADS. Left untreated, chlamydia can also lead to complications during pregnancy and some women have experienced serious bleeding, even leading to death, Crabbe said.
Syphilis is a bacteria that enters through broken skin and ulcerates. Symptoms includes genital ulcer in the infected area, said Ghidinelli.
“In women, the pathogens causing syphilis can be passed on to the fetus during pregnancy that can cause still birth or premature delivery or various problems in the newborn or ‘neonatal syphilis’ leading to abnormal growth and damage to various tissues,” said Crabbe.
Long-term consequences of syphilis can result in brain damage, damage to the nervous system and heart disease for men and women, Crabbe said.
There are two areas where people can get herpes—inside the mouth or herpes labialis, and in the genital area.
The first appearance of symptoms takes five days to two weeks after infection. Herpes is spread through sexual intercourse, though a person can get herpes by kissing someone who has an infected lesion, warned Dr Gavin Scott of Tropical and Travelers Medical Services.
“Herpes is treatable but not curable,” said Ghidinelli. “It comes and goes,” he said.
It is extremely crucial for people who think that they are infected with any STI to see a doctor.
Patients can be treated for gonorrhea with a single tablet dose or injection, but the latter treatment is not suitable for those allergic to penicillin, Chan Vicheth said. Treatment for chlamydia is also in tablet form: One pill twice daily for up to two weeks. A single-dose pill is also available.
The most common treatment for syphilis is with antibiotics, including penicillin, Ghidinelli said. Herpes can be treated with a tablet taken daily for a week or in a cream applied to the infected area.
Experts strongly suggest that if a person has been infected by one STI, he or she should make sure to check for others.
“There’s no point in treating one disease and not checking for the other diseases,” said Scott. “If someone has one sexual disease, then they probably have other ones, as well.”