Dry Skin – STD or Poor Hygiene?
What Types of STDs Cause Dry Skin?

Dry Skin – STD or Poor Hygiene?

The importance of sexual health is slowly being highlighted in recent years, emphasizing the importance of STD prevention and other means to avoid the transmission of dangerous infections that could prove to be fatal and disabling in the long run.

The importance of sexual health is slowly being highlighted in recent years, emphasizing the importance of STD prevention and other means to avoid the transmission of dangerous infections that could prove to be fatal and disabling in the long run.

As such, various health organizations around the world are advocating for the education of the masses when it comes to sexual health, providing multiple initiatives that all aim to allow the public to properly assess their potential condition and have themselves tested if they are proven to be at risk or are manifesting specific symptoms following intercourse.

Dry skin is one of the symptoms that are often confused with other conditions due to the inherent association of this manifestation with other diseases. With the plight of various skin conditions that mainly produce dry skin, sexually active individuals need to recognize an indication of an STD when they experience this symptom, resulting in an immediate testing habit that prevents further transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Although it might be hard to distinguish an STD from another condition on the manifestation of dry skin alone, such conditions usually come with other symptoms that could provide you with a distinctive tool that could differentiate one from another. With the recognition of these conditions in your arsenal, not only are you protected from contracting severe complications that could be irreversible on some level but your partner, who is likewise at risk, could be informed of the subsequent steps that they should undertake to keep themselves safe and healthy as well.

Is your Dry Skin Caused by an STD?

The symptomatic manifestations of STDs are often diverse and varied – differing depending on the immune system of the individual, as well as how extensive the infection is overall. With the various physical symptoms that could be observed, it is extremely easy to confuse sure signs as a manifestation of another condition – the rationale which led to the development of laboratory tests to identify whether a disease is caused by a particular pathogen or by another one entirely.

STDs are a category that likewise manifests dry skin – a treacherous symptom for its wide array of associated conditions, ranging from autoimmune diseases to allergic reactions and skin conditions. In distinguishing whether your dry skin is caused by an STD or by another infection entirely, it is essential first to note that self-diagnoses, even when backed with sufficient references and knowledge of the conditions, could prove to be non-conducive for better health outcomes. With the lack of pertinent laboratory tests that could specifically identify the causative agent and the management methods employed, one should not attempt to self-medicate and resolve the condition at all. Although the analysis of the symptomatic pattern could provide a rough diagnosis of the disease, a proper test and physician consultation should still be the priority over a non-conclusive medication regimen.

Considering that, to know whether your dry skin is potentially, we repeat, potentially caused by an STD, it is essential to assess your risk factors, sexual activity, and the plethora of symptoms that coexist with the said manifestation. With the overlapping physical signs between various conditions that cause dry skin, the most that one could do without proper testing is narrowing down the potential causes of your disease – giving you an ample opportunity to specifically request for the appropriate test, employ the appropriate preventive methods to avoid further transmission, and apply basic non-pharmacological management methods to either prevent its transmission or prevent the rapid progression of the potential condition.

Once again, we reiterate that the most you could do without proper laboratory testing and physician consultation are narrow down the possible condition causing your manifestations. A good examination is the only conclusive evidence to justify taking antibacterial medications, especially with the rise of antimicrobial resistance in the pharmacological industry.

Other Causes of Dry Skin

To give you an in-depth idea of what other conditions are causing your dry skin, it might be efficient likewise to examine other diseases that manifest these symptoms, along with other distinctive features that make them, in one way or another, different from an STD (apart from not being sexually transmitted, of course).

Jock Itch

Jock Itch, also known as Tinea cruris, is a condition that often affects the moist areas of your groin and thighs – producing a red and itchy rash in these warm regions that could be shaped like a ring. With its widespread manifestation in athletes, the condition was named as such, but it could likewise be observed in individuals prone to having moisture accumulate in the area, i.e., overweight individuals and those diagnosed with hyperhidrosis.

Jock itch is often characterized as a ring-shaped rash bordered with a line of small blisters that usually begins with the reddening of the skin in the crease of the grain, spreading outwards in a half-moon shape. Often, the rash would feel itchy, but it could likewise be flaky and scaly – making it similar in some way to the manifestations of other STDs.

To recognize your susceptibility to such condition, the following are the risk factors that you should be wary of:

  • Males
  • Teens or Young Adults
  • Wears tight underwear
  • Overweight individuals
  • Hyperhidrosis
  • Weak immune system
  • Diabetes

Allergic Reaction

Although an allergic reaction to, for instance, food products would manifest as a systemic condition that affects every part of your body, a particular type of allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis could cause the manifestation of a dry, itchy, and scaly rash on the area that is exposed to the potential allergen. As such, the presentation of contact dermatitis could be confused with other conditions due to the possibility of it appearing within the groin area if your underwear’s material is an irritant to your skin. It may also manifest when the skin comes into contact with jewelry, cosmetic products, detergents, fabric conditions, or even with medications applied to the area.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection, specifically a vaginal yeast infection, is often caused by the Candida species, resulting in a condition commonly known as Candidiasis. The primary manifestation of Candidiasis is a rash that is often associated with redness and intense itching within the genital area. It could affect different parts of the body, depending on where the fungus could proliferate, but this condition is often observed in the skin folds, such as in the armpits, groin, between the fingers, and under the breasts. With its possible manifestation in the groin area, it is possible to confuse its manifestations with other conditions, especially when the disease causes the skin to crack and develop blisters and pustules along the area.

To recognize your susceptibility to this infection, the following risk factors may give you an idea of whether an STD or a yeast infection is causing your condition:

  • Living in a warm environment
  • Wearing tight clothes
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not changing underwear
  • Overweight
  • Overuse of antibiotics
  • Overuse of corticosteroids
  • Weak immune system
  • Damp skin

Eczema

Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis is a condition that manifests differently in everyone depending on the severity of the disease, the patient’s age, and their general tolerability when it comes to the physical symptoms of the condition. In most cases, the symptoms would be mild and harmless, including dry, scaly skin, skin flushing, itchiness, and crusted or open weeping sores. The rash is often red and bumpy, but in severe cases, it could also cause skin cracking that could be mistaken for another condition due to your increased susceptibility to another infection. This condition is common among children, and it could be inherited from your parents if they likewise experience such symptoms in their childhood.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that could manifest differently depending on the type of psoriasis you are experiencing, where it appears on your body and the severity and extent of the condition within your system. Psoriasis is often characterized by dry, thick, and raised patches on the skin that could likewise be coated with a silvery scale that is itchy.

STDs and STIs that Manifest Dry Skin

HIV

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a condition that has long been stigmatized due to the poor understanding of the masses as to how it is transmitted and how it is managed in infected individuals. Although there is indeed no approved cure for the condition that could completely eradicate the virus from the body, various management methods could be done to prevent the transmission of the virus during intercourse and reduce its levels into undetected amounts.

HIV’s transmission is misunderstood chiefly due to the generalization that comes with its transmission through “bodily fluid” – leading people to veer away from infected individuals, believing that their condition could be caught through their saliva.

HIV is most notorious for its mechanism that attacks the body’s immune system – resulting in a severe condition known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) when the situation is not managed early on. In this case, the condition is more complex to manage due to the extremely heightened susceptibility to infections, along with the difficulty of managing such conditions due to the crippled immune system, to begin with. However, with the proper therapy and management upon diagnosis, the condition could now be managed, and an infected individual could safely return to their previous habits without worrying about transmitting their disease to their partner.

Symptoms

Much like any other infection, HIV often presents with flu-like symptoms within the first 2 to 4 weeks of exposure – making it harder to distinguish the condition from the simple flu in its early stages, primarily when routine testing is not employed for sexually active individuals. This phase is often known as an “acute HIV infection,” and the symptoms would usually last for a few days to several weeks, depending on the speed of the condition’s progression.

Infected individuals may be asymptomatic, but the manifestations that are primarily seen in symptomatic individuals are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dry rash
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph glands
  • Ulcerations in the mouth

Following the acute infection stage, an infected individual may progress into a condition known as “clinical latency,” also known as a “chronic HIV infection.” The infected person may remain asymptomatic in this phase, albeit the virus still reproduces at very low levels. It may last for decades, but the progression could be faster in some instances without proper management.

When the condition has not been managed at all during the previous two stages, the condition could then proceed into what is known as AIDS, wherein the number of CD4 cells drops below 200 cells/mm. A survival rate of 3 years is expected for people with AIDS without the proper treatment and management of their condition.

General Diagnostic Procedure

If you believe that you are at risk of contracting HIV, i.e., sexually active, participates in male-to-male intercourse, engages in unprotected sex, performs sex work, etc., then it might be imperative to get yourself tested regularly for HIV and other STDs/STIs.

In most healthcare settings or laboratories, a sample will be requested from you that could be a blood sample or oral fluid. Your sample will be analyzed by the pertinent laboratory that performs either a Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) or an antigen/antibody test, and then your results will be relayed to your physician or yourself, with the duration depending on the type of test that you have requested for. Home testing kits are likewise available for you to procure the sample on your own and maximize your privacy, but this will always run the risk of contaminating the sample or obtaining fluids either wrong or too early to detect the presence of the virus properly.

Management

Before anything else, it should be understood that there is no proven and declared cure for HIV that could eliminate the virus from the infected person’s system. However, an approved management therapy known as “antiretroviral therapy” reduces the amount of HIV to undetected levels within your body, effectively preventing its transmission even if the previously infected individual participates in sexual intercourse.

Antiretroviral therapy is a plethora of antiretrovirals – medications aimed at retroviruses such as HIV to prevent their proliferation within your body. This is usually taken for extended periods, but previous statistics show that the condition is often controlled within the first six months.

Herpes

Herpes, or specifically, genital Herpes, is a condition caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and 2 – commonly abbreviated as HSV-1 and HSV-2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates roughly 572,000 new cases every year in the United States, with HSV-2 infections covering around 11.9% of this total number. Genital herpes, caused by HSV-1, covers a more significant portion of this estimate due to the causative strain of this condition. Oral HSV-1 infection is usually a condition obtained during childhood, but it was observed that its prevalence is likewise decreasing – indicating a greater susceptibility to genital manifestations of individuals rather than oral ones.

HSV is commonly transmitted through contact with infected lesions, mucosal tissues, genital secretions, and in some instances, oral secretions. However, transmission has been found to be more prevalent in cases where the infected partner has no apparent lesions or does not know that they are already infected due to the shedding of both HSV-1 and HSV-2, even from normal-appearing genitalia and mucosal surfaces.

Symptoms

Although genital herpes is often asymptomatic in a vast proportion of the population, its symptoms, when apparent, are likewise similar to other skin conditions or are vague at best – making its diagnosis and distinction challenging to perform. In cases where there are apparent symptomatic manifestations in an infected individual, lesions commonly appear as one or more vesicles along with blisters around the genitals, in the rectal area, or on the mouth, depending on the type of HSV strain that was contracted and the point of contact with the infected surface. It will commonly take around four days for symptoms to appear, and these vesicles would then break off to produce painful ulcerations that would heal in the next two to four weeks. This is known as the first herpes outbreak or episode – a manifestation that recurs continuously, with systemic manifestations accompanying only the first outbreak (fever, body pain, headache).

General Diagnosis

HSV Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests or NAAT are the most sensitive type of tests that are often employed to diagnose the condition of an infected individual. However, considering that the resources of each healthcare setting are not identical in most cases, only viral culture is employed in specific scenarios. In this case, the test's sensitivity is often low, and it struggles to diagnose an infected individual who is already experiencing healing or recurrent lesions. It is also important to note that due to the intermittent pattern of the viral shedding of herpes, it is possible to obtain false-negative results in infected individuals, even if a NAAT procedure has been employed to diagnose the concerned patient.

Management

The treatment of herpes, much like HIV, is non-existent due to the lack of an approved cure for the condition itself. Herpes could persist for years, and outbreaks will commonly be a part of an infected person’s lifestyle.

Despite this, there are still management methods that could be done to adequately address the symptoms associated with herpes – decreasing the number of outbreaks or preventing them entirely in some instances. Antiviral medications are employed as suppressive therapy to effectively manage the condition's progression, allowing infected individuals to resume their normal lifestyle and prevent the transmission of the disease after a certain length of treatment. Indeed, the possibility of recurring outbreaks is still imminent with the presence of the virus within the body, but in this case, the symptoms are effectively managed, and the progression of severe complications is avoided.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted condition caused by the microorganism known as Treponema pallidum or T. pallidum when abbreviated in specific references. It is a highly transmissible condition in its initial stages, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of cases is even higher among individuals participating in male-to-male sexual intercourse, according to their 2019 data. In addition to that, it was also observed that the number of cases has been increasing in individuals participating in heterosexual penetrative sex – indicating that the transmission of the disease has been growing despite the safety methods and protective tools that are in place.

A complication of Syphilis, known as congenital Syphilis, is the persistence of the T. pallidum strain in an infant when the mother has unfortunately transmitted the condition to their unborn child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of congenital Syphilis cases is still a significant concern in the United States, with almost 1870 cases recorded in 2019 alone in contrast to the majority of perinatal HIV infections recorded in 2018 that only amounted to 65 cases.

Syphilis is commonly transmitted through syphilitic sores known as “chancres,” which could appear on, around, or near the external genitalia – allowing transmission through oral, anal, or penetrative sex for as long as there is contact with the infected ulcerations.

Symptoms

The symptoms would often appear in the first 21 days following exposure, but the incubation period for Syphilis could range from 10 to 90 days, depending on how the immune system of the host responds to the presence of the microorganism. However, despite this known incubation period, diagnosing the condition might still be difficult due to the infamous title of Syphilis as the “Great Pretender” – showcasing symptoms similar to other diseases, STDs, and non-STDs alike.

The progression of Syphilis is divided into four main stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. In the primary stage, the condition would manifest multiple chancres that are firm, round, and often painless, usually in locations that are hard to notice initially. Without proper treatment, the disease could then progress into its secondary stage wherein skin rashes and mucous membrane lesions would appear, characterized as rough, reddish-brown spots that may occur even in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Systemic manifestations may likewise follow, along with the appearance of gray lesions known as condyloma lata in warm and moist areas of the body. The condition could then progress into clinical latency for a few months, then develop tertiary Syphilis when proper treatment is still not administered – resulting in fatal manifestations that affect the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.

General Diagnosis

A treponemal test is the go-to diagnostic method for most potential Syphilis cases. It can detect the presence of treponemal antibodies in a patient's systemic circulation, even following successful treatment. However, due to the inherent existence of these antibodies in patients who have already recovered from such conditions, a non-treponemal test with titer is likewise performed to conclusively determine the accuracy of diagnosis – identifying whether the patient has an existing condition or is the test detecting a previous antibody from the patient’s past condition.

Management

For most cases, the treatment option for Syphilitic infections, for both adults and adolescents with primary to early latent Syphilis, is 2.4 million units of Benzathine Penicillin G administered intramuscularly in a single dose. However, the dosage may vary depending on the progression of the disease and the extent of damage caused by the presence of the microorganism in the patient’s body. However, note that although antimicrobial treatments could halt the disease progression and eradicate the presence of the pathogen within the body, the damage to the genitalia and other affected parts of the body could no longer be addressed by this medication. As such, it is imperative to have yourself regularly tested and hastily treated for Syphilis upon receiving a conclusive diagnosis of your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is “dryness” similar to dry skin?

No. Dryness often refers to the amount of lubrication of the vagina. Dry skin, on the one hand, refers specifically to the cutaneous layer of the body.

Is herpes always contagious?

Although herpes is most contagious when symptoms are evident and present in the patient’s body, it can still be contagious due to its continuous viral shedding even in normal-looking genitalia.

How long can you have herpes without knowing that you are infected?

It depends on how soon the symptoms manifest in your system. For some cases, people might not manifest any symptoms at all, but generally, it would take around 2 to 10 days for symptoms to appear following exposure, then the outbreak could then last for 2 to 4 weeks.

Are there any studies being done to cure herpes completely?

Gene therapy is the potential avenue for herpes treatment, but based on the current pace of the studies, it might take around three years to have an approved cure for herpes.

Does using condoms prevent the transmission of syphilis?

It can minimize the exposed area, thus preventing contact with the infectious syphilitic sores, but transmission is still possible. Abstinence is the only conclusive way to avoid transmission altogether.

What are the long-term effects of syphilis?

Most cases of syphilis are usually addressed in its early stages, but for cases where it has progressed into its tertiary stage, the condition might affect the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, livers, bones, and joints.

Can you transmit HIV immediately after exposure?

Yes. Research has shown that a disproportionate number of HIV transmissions originated from individuals who were recently infected in the past month.

If you have HIV, how long should your tests stay undetectable to consider yourself non-contagious?

In order for your viral load to be considered “undetectable,” your tests should reflect likewise for at least six months following the first undetectable result.

Will you test negative in an HIV test if your levels are undetectable?

Yes, as HIV tests detect antibodies, while viral load tests determine the presence of the virus within the body.

References

Mark Riegel, MD
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