All sexually transmitted diseases can lead to serious health risks if left untreated, but typically the more worrisome STDs are caused by viruses. Not to downplay how dangerous STDs can be, but the “4 H’s” are the sexually transmitted diseases that typically warrant the most fear and dread.
The Four H’s are all viral STDs: Herpes, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Hepatitis C.
These STDs cause more alarm in patients and their doctors because they typically remain with an individual for the rest of their life. The exceptions to this are some cases of HPV, and certain cases of hepatitis that respond well to treatment or clear on their own for unknown reasons.
The 4 H’s
Herpes – Genital herpes, whether caused by strain HSV-1 or HSV-2, can lead to lesions or sores in or on the genitals. It spread easily via infected bodily fluids, including saliva, semen, lesion or blister fluid, or vaginal secretions. The virus goes through unpredictable active and inactive stages, making it a stressful disease to have. It can also spread when no signs or symptoms are present during a process known as shedding, and because sores or afflicted cells can be on parts of the genital region not covered by a condom, it can still spread even if protection is used.
HPV – Human papillomavirus is a gamble of a virus. HPV essentially has three outcomes: It can cause no problems or symptoms in some people, cause genital warts in others, or lead to certain types of cancers. More than 14 million new cases occur in the United States yearly. Certain strains result in genital warts, and others can cause cervical, oropharyngeal, vulva, vaginal, or penile or anal cancers. The stains that can lead to cancer are not the same strains that can cause genital warts, but an individual can be infected with more than one strain at a time. There are vaccine series available to help prevent certain cancer and genital wart causing strains for both men and women. Because genital warts may be on parts of the genital region not covered by a condom, it can still spread if protection is used. Some strains of HPV go away on their own after a couple years.
HIV – HIV has been in the media spotlight for decades because of its serious nature. Without treatment, those infected progress into an ultimately fatal condition known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) when they lose the ability to fight off illnesses, diseases, and infections. Today there are many lifelong treatment options available to help those diagnosed with HIV, but early detection before it progresses to AIDS is crucial in living a longer, healthier life.
Hepatitis – Unlike hepatitis A and B, hepatitis C (HCV) cannot be prevented via immunization. Hepatitis B (HBV) is more commonly spread sexually than HCV, but both viruses affect the liver and occur in two stages. The first stage, the acute stage, can result in flu-like symptoms, jaundice, dark urine and/or gray stool. During the acute stage, 1 in 5 people infected will clear the virus from their system on their own. The secondary stage is chronic hepatitis and can occur any time after the first six months of contracting the virus. The symptoms are similar to acute hepatitis, but may strike decades later. Those living with chronic hepatitis can go on to develop chronic infections, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and/or live cancer. There is no cure for HBV, but 90 percent of healthy adults who contract it, clear the virus on their own during the first year. HCV is most common among individuals born between 1945 and 1965, and can also be spread by sharing needles or drug-use equipment. Some treatment options for HCV result in clearing the body of the virus, but, medically speaking, the is no guaranteed cure for it.
Knowing the 4 H’s can help you make better decisions regarding safer sex. Spread knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases to help stop their spread.