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Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can cause mild discomfort to severe complications. Sometimes, STDs are asymptomatic. Learn what you can do to prevent and treat them.
What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
STDs are diseases passed from one person to another through sexual contact, usually by vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You can get an STD through skin-to-skin contact or by exchanging fluids, such as vaginal fluid or semen.
You may or may not have symptoms when you have an STD. Even without symptoms, STDs are transmissible, meaning you can pass them to a partner. Having an STD increases the risk of transmission of other STDs. STDs are very common, and many are easy to treat.
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What are common STDs, and how are they treated?
Common STDs include the following:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI in the US. Almost everyone will contract HPV at some point. There are many types, but most people with HPV do not know they have it. HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer in people with cervixes.
Treatment for HPV depends on the type. There are over 100 types of HPV. Some types cause genital warts, some types have no symptoms, and high-risk types can lead to cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine, called Gardasil, prevents against certain types of high-risk HPV infections and reduces your chances of getting cervical cancer, and other less common cancers. The vaccine is recommended for children after age 11, though it can be given as early as age 9.
- Chlamydia is caused by a bacterial infection. Sometimes, it can cause painful urination, painful sex, or abnormal vaginal, penile, or anal discharge. Often, there are no symptoms. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), damage the reproductive organs, and cause infertility. Chlamydia is easily cured with antibiotics.
- Gonorrhea is an infection caused by bacteria. Left untreated, it can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), even though there often are no symptoms. Some strains are becoming drug-resistant, so your doctor may give you two antibiotics to treat gonorrhea.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a complication of untreated STDs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. PID can damage reproductive organs, leading to infertility and chronic pelvic pain. For many people, the most common symptom of PID is lower abdominal pain. Symptoms that could indicate PID include fever, painful intercourse, discharge with a foul odor, painful urination, irregular menstrual bleeding, and, rarely, pain in the upper right abdomen. PID is treated with antibiotics.
- Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of five known hepatitis viruses. Three types are passed through sexual contact—Hepatisis A, B, and C. Hepatitis can cause liver cancer and liver failure, however, most people with chronic hepatitis do not know that they are infected. Treatment depends on the type of hepatitis, and can include medication. Some infections may clear on their own. There are safe and effective vaccines to treat Hepatitis A and B.
- Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Genital herpes causes sores or painful blisters on the genitals that go away and come back. Sometimes, herpes carries no symptoms. There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications can help alleviate symptoms. Outbreaks become more rare over time.
- Syphilis is caused by bacteria transmitted through a sore in the genital area. Untreated, it can cause damage to the internal organs, and eventually become fatal. In the primary stage, small painless sores can develop on the mouth, genitals, or anus. The second stage of syphilis includes a body rash. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.
- Trichomoniasis is an STD caused by a single-celled parasite. Symptoms include vaginal discharge, itching, and pain. Trichomoniasis is curable with antibiotics.
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an infection spread through semen, vaginal fluids, and blood. Usually, HIV is a lifelong infection. Thanks to modern advancements in medications, people can now life long and healthy lives and prevent transmission to their partners. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is highly effective at preventing HIV. Left untreated, HIV can can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
STD testing usually includes blood and urine tests, or a swab test. A Pap test with an abnormal result is likely caused by HPV. Ways to prevent STDs include abstinence, testing before a new sexual relationship, and using latex barriers, such as condoms correctly, each time you have intercourse.
For other STD resources, see the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pamphlet on STDs, and these Center for Disease Control STD Fact Sheets: