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Sexually Transmitted Diseases: AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhea

It is most commonly sexual contact that spreads STDs, which are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

It is most commonly sexual contact that spreads STDs, which are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Blood, semen, vaginal and other bodily fluids may carry bacteria, viruses, or parasites that cause sexually transmitted diseases. Infections can also be transmitted non-sexually, for example, through blood transfusions or sharing needles between mothers and their unborn children. There are not always symptoms associated with STIs. Even people who seem perfectly healthy can contract sexually transmitted infections, and they may not be aware that they have one.


STDs and STIs present a wide variety of symptoms, including no symptoms at all. The symptoms may go unnoticed until complications occur or the disease is discovered in a partner. STIs are characterized by the following signs and symptoms:
  • Fever
  • Rash over the trunk, hands, or feet
  • Swollen, sore lymph nodes
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Bumps or sores in genitals
  • Pain during sex
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Discharge from the penis
It takes a few days for signs and symptoms to appear. A STI may not cause noticeable problems for years, depending on the organism that causes it. The following factors can cause STDs or STIs:
  • Bacteria - In gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, bacteria are responsible for the infection.
  • Parasites - A parasite causes trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Viruses - Herpes genitals, HPV, and HIV are among the STIs caused by viruses.
It is possible to get infected without sexual contact with other types of infections such as hepatitis A, B, and C viruses and Shigella infections.


Human immunodeficiency virus (AIDS) is an RNA virus that causes infection. Infection and disease are exacerbated by HIV because the immune system is compromised. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Mothers can also transmit it to their babies by coming into contact with infected blood during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. HIV may not weaken your immune system for years before you exhibit symptoms of AIDS without medication. Medications can significantly slow the progression of HIV/AIDS, but there is no cure. Many developed nations have decreased their AIDS mortality rates because of these medications.


According to the stage of infection, HIV and AIDS symptoms vary.

Primary infection (Acute HIV)

People infected with HIV often get flu-like symptoms two to four weeks after becoming infected. Infection with HIV is usually referred to as a primary (acute) form of the disease. The following symptoms are possible:
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
If the symptoms are mild, you might not notice them. In your bloodstream, however, a lot of viruses are present at the moment (viral load). This makes it easier for the infection to spread during primary infection than to spread when it is in the later stages.

Clinical latent infections (Chronic HIV)

Despite the fact that HIV has not yet been eradicated from the body, the virus is still present in the body. Nevertheless, there may be no symptoms or infection at this stage. A person with HIV who does not receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) may remain in this stage for many years. Nevertheless, some people can experience signs of disease much earlier.

Symptomatic HIV infection

Your immune system is being destroyed by the virus, which may lead to mild infections or other chronic symptoms.
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Oral yeast infection
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Shingles

Progression to AIDS

In about eight to ten years, HIV usually becomes AIDS if left untreated. AIDS severely compromises your immune system. With a weakened immune system, you'll be more susceptible to opportunistic infections or cancers - illness that wouldn't normally affect someone with a healthy immune system. The following symptoms may be caused by these infections:
  • Weakness
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Sweats
  • Fatigue
  • White spots or lesions in tongue or mouth
  • Recurring fever
  • Skin rashes or bumps
  • Weight loss


A virus causes HIV. Sexual contact, blood or breast-feeding can transmit it, as can transmission from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

What makes HIV into AIDS?

A large part of how your body fights disease is through CD4 T cells, which are destroyed by HIV. Your immune system is weakened when you have fewer CD4 T cells. An HIV infection can last for years without causing any symptoms before it develops into AIDS. When you have an AIDS-defining complication, like an infection or cancer, or a CD4 T cell count below 200, you are diagnosed with AIDS.

The spread of HIV

An individual must be exposed to infected blood, semen, or vaginal secretions in order to become infected with HIV. You can become infected in many ways:
  • Through sexual activity - When your blood, sperm, or vaginal secretions enter your body during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner, you may become infected. When you perform sexual activities, you may develop mouth sores or small tears that may spread to your rectum or vagina.
  • Through sharing needles - By sharing contaminated IV drug paraphernalia (needles and syringes) with others, you are more likely to contract HIV and other infections, such as hepatitis.
  • When transfusing blood - It is possible to contract the virus through blood transfusions in some cases.
  • During pregnancy and breastfeeding - A mother can pass the virus on to her baby if she is infected. When mothers are HIV-positive and get treatment for their infection during pregnancy, the risk of infection to their unborn babies is significantly reduced.


Sexual contact usually spreads the bacterial infection syphilis. Starting as a painless sore, usually on the genitals, rectum, or mouth, the disease progresses to become a more serious illness. People contract syphilis when they come into contact with these sores, either on their skin or through their mucous membranes. It may take decades for Syphilis bacteria to become active in the body after they become inactive after the initial infection. Syphilis can be cured with one dose (injection) of penicillin if caught early. Those with untreated syphilis often suffer life-threatening damage to their hearts, brains and other organs. Syphilis may also be transmitted to unborn children by mothers.


Stages of syphilis develop, and symptoms change over time. Stages and symptoms don't always coincide, and they do not happen at the same time. Symptoms of syphilis may not be noticed for years after infection.

Primary syphilis

Syphilis presents with small sores, called chancres (SHANG-kur). In the area of the bacteria's entry into the body, there is the sore. The majority of people who are infected with syphilis develop just one chancre, but some develop multiple ones. Chancres are the first signs of syphilis. The chancre often goes unnoticed by those with syphilis because it is often painless and may be hidden within the rectum or vaginal cavity. In three to six weeks, the chancre will heal by itself.

Secondary syphilis

In some cases, you may develop a rash on your trunk shortly after your original chancre has healed, and it will eventually cover your entire body, including your palms, heels, and soles. There is usually no itching involved with this rash, and you may experience wart-like blisters in your mouth or genital area. Additionally, some people suffer from hair loss, muscle soreness, fever, sore throats, swollen lymph nodes, and a sore throat. It is possible for symptoms to persist for months or to disappear in a matter of weeks.

Latent syphilis

Without treatment, syphilis moves from secondary to hidden (latent), when there are no symptoms. Syphilis can be latent for many years without symptoms. There is a risk, however, that signs and symptoms may never return if the disease progresses into the third stage.

Tertiary syphilis

About 15% to 30% of syphilis patients who go untreated develop a complication called tertiary syphilis. It is possible for the disease to damage the brain, the nerves, the eyes, the heart, the blood vessels, the liver, the bones, and the joints. This damage may be visible many years after the infection occurs.


A person with syphilis, no matter the stage, can suffer damages to the brain, nervous system, or eye, among other injuries.

Congenital syphilis

Syphilis can be transmitted to babies through the placenta or during birth if their mother has the disease. In babies born with congenital syphilis, most experience no symptoms at all, although some of them have a rash on their fingers and feet. In later stages, deafness, tooth deformity, and saddle noses - caused by the collapse of the nose bridge - may also occur. It is possible, however, for babies born with syphilis to be premature, to die in the womb before birth or to suffer perinatal death.


Known as Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis is responsible. The most common method of spreading syphilis is through contact with a sore caused by an infected person while sexually active. Abrasions or minor cuts on the skin or mucous membranes can introduce bacteria to the body. When it is in its secondary and primary stages, as well as when it is latent, syphilis is contagious. It is also possible for the virus to be spread directly from a lesion that is active, such as during kissing. Children can contract the virus from their mothers during pregnancy or childbirth. In addition, the disease cannot be spread by sharing toilets, bathtubs, clothes, eating utensils, or via doorknobs, swimming pools, or hot tubs. Syphilis is not recurrent once cured. Reinfection is possible if you get in contact with syphilis sores.


Both males and females can contract gonorrhea due to a sexually transmitted bacterium. Gonorrhea is most commonly associated with a urethral, rectum, or throat infection. Infection of the cervix can also be caused by gonorrhea in females. Anal, oral, and vaginal sex are the most common ways to spread gonorrhea. However, babies born to infected mothers can come into contact with the disease during their birthing process. The eyes are most commonly affected by gonorrhea in babies. It is advisable to avoid sex, always use a condom when having sex, and to be in a monogamous relationship to prevent sexually transmitted infections.


Gonorrhea infections are often asymptomatic. In general, symptoms appear in the genital tract, but can affect many parts of your body.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in the genital tract

Men with gonorrhea may experience the following symptoms:
  • Penis discharge that looks like pus
  • Painful urination
  • Testicular pain or swelling
The following symptoms may be experienced by women with gonorrhea:
  • Abdominal or pelvis pain
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Heavy bleeding between cycles, such as after vaginal intimacy
  • Painful urination

Another site of gonorrhea

There are other parts of the body that can be affected by gonorrhea as well:
  • Rectum - Anal itching, bleeding from the rectum, bright red spots on toilet tissue, and straining during bowel movements are signs and symptoms of this condition.
  • Eyes - One or both eyes can be affected by gonorrhea that causes eye pain, light sensitivity, and pus-like discharge.
  • Joints - A septic arthritis infection causes the joints to become swollen, red, warm, and extremely painful.
  • Throat - Infections of the throat are accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck.


The bacteria that cause gonorrhea is Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Sexual contact, whether oral, anal or vaginal, is the most common way gonorrhea bacteria are spread from person to person.
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Ankur Choudhary is India's first professional pharmaceutical blogger, author and founder of, a widely-read pharmaceutical blog since 2008. Sign-up for the free email updates for your daily dose of pharmaceutical tips.
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