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Venereology is a branch of medicine which focuses on the study and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In many regions of the world, venereology is treated as a branch of dermatology, because many of the conditions studied by venereologists result in skin eruptions and other skin problems. As a result, many people in this field belong to an academy of dermatology and venereology, being trained as dermatologists first and later specializing in the study of sexually transmitted infections.
The terms “sexually transmitted infection” and “sexually transmitted disease (STD)” are often used interchangeably, with both being used as a replacement for the now outdated term “venereal disease (VD).” However, some people do distinguish between an STI and an STD. If someone has an STI, it means that an infectious agent is present in the body, but not necessarily causing symptoms, and he or she may be infected and contagious without realizing it. By contrast, when someone has an STD, he or she is experiencing the active symptoms of disease as a result of an infection with an organism which can be passed through sexual contact.
Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, parasites, and viruses can all cause sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, candidiasis, herpes simplex, gonorrhea, human papilloma virus, syphilis, and trichomonoiasis. Venereologists study all of these conditions, looking at the ways in which they can be transmitted, the pathology of the disease, and the treatment options for patients. Those working in active medical practice provide treatment to patients, while those working in research may work on methods of prevention or the development of new treatments.
Sexually transmitted infections are a major problem in many regions of the world. While patients do not specifically need to see a venereologist for treatment, since many general practitioners can provide an appropriate prescription, sometimes patients benefit from seeing a specialist. Specialists can help patients struggling with drug resistant conditions, or with the long term management of infections which cannot be completely cured. Specialists in venereology also provide education to patients and members of the general public.
Work in venereology can be complicated by social issues and moral norms. Venereologists need to think not only about the mechanics of how infectious agents are passed, but the culture in the society where they are working, and the ways in which cultural values may contribute to the spread of infectious agents. Outreach programs to patients and the general public have to be done with care to avoid causing offense, and to ensure that information is provided in an accessible way.