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Genitourinary medicine is a specialized field of medicine that deals with the sexual health of both men and women. Its focus is diagnosing and treating all forms of sexually transmitted disease (STD). Physicians practicing in this field are knowledgeable in andrology, gynecology and urology. Genitourinary medicine also deals with diseases that have transmission routes outside of sexual contact, the most well known example being HIV. Many specialized clinics exist that can diagnose and treat sexually transmitted diseases.
Genitourinary medicine studies sexual health with the goal of treating and preventing sexually transmitted disease. The word "genitourinary" is a combination of the words genitals and urinary, indicating that the field combines more than one medical discipline. Physicians in this field diagnose, treat and research these diseases. They are specialists, and usually treat patients who are referred from general practitioners. Their knowledge and expertise come from years of extra training beyond medical school.
Physicians practicing genitourinary medicine must have a multidisciplinary background in urology, andrology and gynecology, three fields that are already very specialized. This is necessary since the majority of sexually transmitted diseases affect the genitals and urinary tract of both men and women. These physicians must be able to diagnose an STD and administer proper treatment. As an STD can be bacterial, fungal, viral, parasitic, or protozoal, diagnosis may take multiple tests if obvious physical symptoms are not present.
Since HIV became a worldwide pandemic starting in the 1970s, genitourinary medicine has evolved into one of the lines of defense in preventing the virus' spread. These efforts go far beyond testing individuals for the virus. Physicians in this field have also become educators to newly diagnosed patients; they relay information about everything from treatment options to how to inform past sexual partners that they need to be tested for the virus. These educational efforts, many subsidized by various national governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are a cornerstone of HIV prevention around the world.
As having an STD is sometimes more embarrassing than life-threatening, many discreet genitourinary medicine clinics exist in cities around the world. Clinics can either be attached to hospitals or stand alone. Physicians and nurses in these clinics are trained the same as those working in major hospitals. They can prescribe medications and give counseling/advice to patients diagnosed with HIV or other serious illnesses. For patients diagnosed with an incurable condition such as HIV or herpes, physicians at a clinic will refer a patient to a local specialist.