STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)

What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases transmitted through sexual contact. They are among the most common infectious diseases, with the United States having the highest rates of STDs in the industrialized world.

  • STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. However, nearly half of all STDs occur in people younger than age 25.
  • 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 symptom-less STDs can be contagious.
  • Women suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs.
  • Some STDs can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to both infertility and ectopic 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, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.

How can STDs be prevented?

If you decide to become sexually active, or are currently sexually active, there are several precautionary measures to follow, recommended by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 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 condom
  • Use sterile needles if injecting intravenous drugs
  • Decrease susceptibility to HIV infections by preventing and controlling other STDs
  • Have regular checkups for STDs
  • Learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms develop
  • Avoid having sexual intercourse during menstruation
  • Use a male condom during anal intercourse
  • Avoid douching

What are common types of STDs?

Numerous STDs have been identified and affect more than 19 million men and women in this country each year. According to the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Centers for Disease Control, common types of STDs include:

  • Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection. People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases and to certain forms of cancer. Transmission of the virus most often occurs during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts called condylomas, which can occur on the inside or outside areas of the genitals and may spread to the surrounding skin or to a sexual partner. Because HPV infection does not always cause warts, the infection may go undetected. Women with an HPV infection have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. An HPV vaccine is available to help prevent cervical cancer.
  • Chlamydial Infections: Chlamydial infections, the most common of all STDs, 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.
  • Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination. The most common and serious complications occur in women, and include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and infertility. Gonorrhea infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.
  • Genital Herpes: Genital herpes infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Symptoms may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which 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 recur from time to time. There is no cure for HSV but there are anti-viral agents to take that can shorten an outbreak and reduce symptoms.
  • Syphilis: The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears on the penis, in the vagina, or around either sexual organ. Untreated syphilis may go on to more advanced stages, including a transient rash and, eventually, serious involvement of the heart and central nervous system. Syphilis infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.

Other diseases that may be sexually transmitted include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Chancroid
  • Cytomegalovirus infections
  • Granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Molluscum contagiosum
  • Pubic lice
  • Scabies
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Vaginal yeast infections

How are STDs treated?

When diagnosed early, many STDs can be successfully treated. Consult your physician for instructions on treating an STD. Begin treatment immediately, take the full course of medications, and follow your physician's advice.

  • Do not breastfeed a baby or use breast milk to feed a baby.
  • Notify 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.