Sexually Transmitted Diseases
What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
STDs are infectious diseases transmitted through sexual contact. It is estimated that
millions of new cases happen annually in the U.S. Half of the new infections happen
in people between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
How can you protect yourself from STDs?
The best way to prevent contracting an STD is to abstain from any type of sexual activity,
including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. However, if you decide to become sexually active,
or are currently sexually active, there are several precautionary measures to help
reduce your risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease. These include the following:
Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.
Use (consistently and correctly) a male latex or female polyurethane condom and topical
Use sterile needles if injecting intravenous drugs.
Decrease susceptibility to HIV infections by preventing and controlling other STDs.
Some individuals may benefit from pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent developing
HIV infection. Discuss this with your healthcare provider to see if it is right for
Delay having sexual relationships as long as possible. The younger a person is when he
or she begins to have sex for the first time, the more likely he or she becomes to
developing an STD.
Have regular checkups for HIV and STDs.
Learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms
Avoid having sexual intercourse during menstruation.
Avoid anal intercourse, or use a male latex condom and topical microbicides.
What to do when diagnosed with an STD?
Begin treatment immediately. Take the full course of medicines, and follow your healthcare
Do not breastfeed a baby or use breast milk to feed a baby if you are HIV positive.
Notify your local health department or all recent sexual partners and urge them to
get medical checkups.
Avoid sexual activity while under treatment for an STD.
Have a follow-up test to be sure the STD has been successfully treated.
What are some common types of STDs?
According to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the CDC,
common STDs include the following types.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
HIV is a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection. People who
have HIV may not look or feel sick for a long time after infection, but if not diagnosed
early and treated, will eventually become very susceptible to many life-threatening
diseases and to certain forms of cancer. Transmission of the virus most often happens
during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.
HIV can be passed to your baby during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and through breastfeeding.
But according to the CDC, if a mother who knows early in her pregnancy that she is
HIV positive and seeks treatment, the mother-to-child transmission rate can be lowered
to less than 2%.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease. Some types can cause genital warts called
condylomas. These can happen on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may
spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Many other types of HPV cause
no symptoms, so the infection may go undetected. In most cases, the virus goes away
and does not cause further health problems. However, if the virus lasts, normal cells
can change and become abnormal. Women with an HPV infection with high-risk types like
HPV 16 and 18 have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests
can detect HPV infection, as well as abnormal cervical cells. Two types of HPV vaccines
are available to protect girls and women against the types of HPV that cause most
cervical cancers. One type also protects against most genital warts in girls and women
and also protects boys and men against most genital warts and anal cancers. Although
there is treatment for the genital warts (which sometimes go away on their own), the
virus remains and warts can reappear. Certain types of HPV can also cause warts on
other body parts such as the hands, called common warts. These do not generally cause
health problems. If a pregnant woman has a large number of genital warts, the growths
can complicate a vaginal delivery. If the warts block the birth canal, a cesarean
section (c-section) may be recommended.
Chlamydial infections, the most commonly reported STD in the U.S., can affect both
men and women. They may cause an abnormal genital discharge and burning with urination.
In women, untreated chlamydial infection may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Chlamydial infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy. Unfortunately, many
people with chlamydial infection have few or no symptoms of infection. The most common
and serious complications occur in women and include pelvic inflammatory disease,
ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility. Chlamydia can also be carried in and affect
the rectum as well as the genital areas. If you are pregnant and have chlamydia, the
infection can be passed to your baby at birth. This can cause eye infections or pneumonia
in your baby. With chlamydia, you are also more likely to have your baby too early.
Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination.
The most common and serious complications happen in women, and include pelvic inflammatory
disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility. Gonorrhea infections can be treated
with antibiotic therapy. Gonorrhea can also be carried in and affect the rectum as
well as the genital areas. Gonorrhea at the time of childbirth can spread to the baby
and cause severe eye infection.
Genital herpes infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Symptoms may
include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area. This may be preceded by
a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes
sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and
the lesions may return from time to time. There is no cure for HSV, but there are
antiviral agents to take that can shorten an outbreak and reduce symptoms. HSV can
be transmitted from the mouth (if a person has ever had cold sores, also caused by
HSV) to the genitals during oral sex. The virus can be transmitted to sexual partners
even if there are no visible blisters. This is called asymptomatic shedding. HSV can
also be spread to a baby at the time of childbirth. This causes a very severe infection
in the infant.
The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears on the
penis, in the vagina, or on the skin around either sexual organ. Untreated syphilis
may go on to more advanced stages, including a rash that doesn't last long and, eventually,
serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system. Syphilis infections can
be treated with antibiotic therapy. If a pregnant woman has untreated syphilis, the
disease can cause dangerous, even fatal, problems for the baby. The way congenital
syphilis (CS) affects the infant depends on how long the woman has had the disease
and if or when she received treatment for the infection. CS can cause miscarriage
(losing the baby during pregnancy), stillbirth (a baby born dead), or death shortly
after birth. According to the CDC, approximately 40% of babies born to women with
untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection in infancy.
Other diseases that may be sexually transmitted include:
What are the facts about STDs and teens?
STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. However, nearly
half of all STD cases happen in people younger than age 25 in the U.S.
STDs are on the rise, possibly due to more sexually active people who have multiple
sex partners during their lives.
Many STDs initially cause no symptoms. In addition, many STD symptoms may be confused
with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact--especially in
women. Even symptomless STDs can be contagious.
Women suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs:
Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes and cause PID. This
can lead to both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
STDs in women also may be associated with cervical cancer.
STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth. Some infections
of the newborn may be successfully treated. Others may cause a baby to be permanently
disabled or even die.
When diagnosed early, many STDs can be successfully treated.