Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are diseases and infections that are passed from person to person through sexual contact. HIV is an STD. There are more than 25 other STDs that are mainly spread by sexual contact such as vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
The US has the highest rate of STDs in the developed world. In the US, about 19 million new infections occur each year. Teenage girls and young women need to be particularly aware of STDs. A recent study estimates that 1 in 4 teenage girls (aged 14-19) have an STD. African- Americans girls and young women have some of the highest rates of STDs, especially for chlamydia and gonorrhea. In addition, women suffer more frequent and more serious complications from STDs than men.
Many STDS have no symptoms, but can still be passed from person to person. A lot of people who have an STD don't even know it. They may look healthy, but they still could have an STD. The only way to know for sure is to have regular STD screenings from your healthcare provider.
If left untreated, STDs can cause serious health problems including cervical cancer, liver disease, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and pregnancy problems. Having some STDs (such as chancroid, herpes, syphilis, and trichomoniasis) can increase the risk of your getting HIV if you are HIV-negative and get exposed to HIV. People with HIV may also be at greater risk to get or pass on other STDs.
Fortunately, many STDs can be prevented by practicing safer sex . And most STDs, though not all, can be successfully treated.
Some Sexually Transmitted Diseases to Know About
If there are signs of STDs, they are most likely to be in the genital area. The genital area in women includes the vulva (the area around the vagina including the lips), vagina (the opening where menstrual blood comes out), buttocks, and anus (the opening where stool comes out). The genital area in men includes the penis, scrotum (“balls”), and anus in men. Some of the most common STDs include:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This condition is caused by an imbalance of the bacteria that normally live in the vagina. Symptoms may include vaginal discharge, odor, pain, itching, or burning, but many women have no symptoms. BV can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can cause babies to be born prematurely in pregnant women. It also can spread to a woman’s upper, internal reproductive organs (ovaries and fallopian tubes) where it causes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to infertility (making it difficult or impossible to become pregnant).
This STD is caused by a specific bacteria. Symptoms may include genital sores, vaginal discharge, a burning feeling when urinating, and swollen lymph nodes in the groin. It can be spread by vaginal or anal sex or skin-to-skin contact with sores. Chancroid can be treated with antibiotics.
This is one of the most common STDs. It is caused by a specific bacteria. It can be spread by vaginal or anal sex and pregnant women can pass it on to their babies during delivery. Symptoms may include vaginal discharge and burning during urination but most women do not have any symptoms. Chlamydia can be successfully treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can spread to a woman’s upper, internal reproductive organs (ovaries and fallopian tubes) and cause PID. Women, especially young women and women of color, are hardest hit by chlamydia. Yearly chlamydia screening is recommended for all sexually-active women under the age of 26, as well as for older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners. Unfortunately, recent reports show that less than half of sexually-active women under 26 are screened for chlamydia, in part because of a lack of awareness among health care providers. If you are not offered a chlamydia test, you may want to request one...