Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections, are infections spread by sexual contact.

A person with an STI can pass it to others by contact with skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. Anyone who has sexual contact—vaginal, anal, or oral sex – with another person may get an STI. STIs may not cause symptoms. Even if there are no symptoms, your health can be affected.

STIs are caused by bacterial or viral infections. Sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. Those caused by viruses cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated.

Risk Factors for STIs:

–     More than one sexual partner.

–     A partner who has or has had more than one sexual partner.

–     Sex with someone who has an STI.

–     History of STIs.

–     Use of intravenous drugs (injected into a vein) or partner use of intravenous drugs.

–     Adolescents have a higher risk of getting an STI than adults.

To Reduce Risk of getting an STI:

–     Know your sexual partners and limit their number – Your partner’s sexual history is as important as your own. The more partners you or your partners have, the higher your risk of getting an STI.

–     Use a latex condom – Using a latex condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex decreases the chances of infection.

–     Avoid risky sex practices – Sexual acts that tear or break the skin carry a higher risk of STIs. Even small cuts that do not bleed let germs pass back and forth. Anal sex poses a high risk because tissues in the rectum tear easily. Body fluids also can carry STIs. Having any unprotected sexual contact with an infected person poses a high risk of getting an STI.

–     Get immunized – Vaccinations are available that will help prevent hepatitis B and some types of HPV.

The most common types of STIs are:

Gonorrhea & Chlamydia: Both are caused by bacteria. The bacteria are passed from one person to another through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Gonorrhea and chlamydia often occur together. They can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra, and rectum. In women, the most common place is the cervix (the opening of the uterus). Women with gonorrhea or chlamydia often have no symptoms. When symptoms from either infection do occur, they may show up 2 days to 3 weeks after infection. They may be very mild and can be mistaken for a urinary tract or vaginal infection. The most common symptoms in women include the following:

–     A yellow vaginal discharge

–     Painful or frequent urination

–     Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods

–     Rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are treated with antibiotics. You will need to be retested 3 months after treatment to see if the infection is gone.

Syphillis: also is caused by bacteria. It occurs in stages. Symptoms of syphilis differ by stage:

–     Primary stage – Syphilis first appears as a painless chancre. This sore goes away without treatment in 3–6 weeks.

–     Secondary stage – The next stage begins as the chancre is healing or several weeks after the chancre has disappeared, when a rash may appear. The rash usually appears on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. Flat warts may be seen on the vulva. During this stage, there may be flu-like symptoms. This stage is highly contagious.

–     Latent and late stages – The rash and other symptoms go away in a few weeks or months, but the disease still is present in the body. If untreated, the disease may return in its most serious form years later.

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. If it is caught and treated early, long-term problems can be prevented. The length of treatment depends on how long a person has had the disease.

You can take steps to avoid getting gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis. These safeguards also help protect against other STIs:

–     Use a condom. Both male and female condoms are sold over the counter in drug stores. They help protect against STIs.

–     Limit your sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have over a lifetime, the higher your risk of getting STIs.

–     Know your partner. Ask about your partner’s sexual history. Ask whether he or she has had STIs. Even if your partner has no symptoms, he or she still may be infected.

–     Avoid contact with any sores on the genitals.