Sexually Transmitted Diseases - Your Guide to STDs

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are generally acquired by sexual contact. The organisms that cause sexually transmitted diseases may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids.

Some such infections can also be transmitted nonsexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, or through blood transfusions or shared needles.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

It's possible to contract sexually transmitted diseases from people who seem perfectly healthy — people who, in fact, aren't even aware of being infected. Many STDs cause no symptoms in some people, which is one of the reasons experts prefer the term "sexually transmitted infections" to "sexually transmitted diseases."

Sexually Transmitted Diseases


  • Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during sex
  • Sore, swallon lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Rash over the trunk, hands or feet

Signs and symptoms may appear a few days to years after exposure, depending on the organism.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases


  • Bacteria 
  • Parasites 
  • Viruses (human papillomavirus, HIV)


  • Having a history of STIs
  • Anyone forced to have sexual intercourse or sexual activity
  • Abusing alcohol or using recreational drugs
  • Injecting drugs
  • Being an adolescent female
  • Men who request prescriptions for drugs to treat errection dysfunction

Transmission from mother to infant

Certain STIs — such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis — can be passed from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy or delivery. STIs in infants can cause serious problems and may be fatal. All pregnant women should be screened for these infections and treated.


  • Sores or bumps anywhere on the body
  • Recurrent genital sores
  • Generalized skin rash
  • Scrotal pain, redness and swelling
  • Pelvic pain
  • Hair loss
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Eye inflammation
  • Arthiritis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Infertility
  • Certain cancers, such as HPV-associated cervical and rectal cancers


  • Blood tests
  • Urine samples
  • Fluid sample


  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics, often in a single dose, can cure many sexually transmitted bacterial and parasitic infections, including gonorrhea, syphillis, chlamydia and trichimoniasis. Typically, you'll be treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia at the same time because the two infections often appear together.

    Once you start antibiotic treatment, it's crucial to follow through. If you don't think you'll be able to take medication as prescribed, tell your doctor. A shorter, simpler treatment regimen may be available. In addition, it's important to abstain from sex until you've completed treatment and any sores have healed.

  • Antiviral drugs. You'll have fewer herpes recurrences if you take daily suppressive therapy with a prescription antiviral drug. Antiviral drugs lessen the risk of infection, but it's still possible to give your partner herpes.

    Antiviral drugs can keep HIV infection in check for many years, although the virus persists and can still be transmitted. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is. Once you start treatment — if you take your medications exactly as directed — it's possible to lower your virus count to nearly undetectable levels.

Partner notification and preventive treatment

If tests show that you have an STI, your sex partners — including your current partners and any other partners you've had over the last three months to one year — need to be informed so that they can get tested and treated if infected. Each state has different requirements, but most mandate that certain STIs be reported to the local or state health department. Public health departments frequently employ trained disease intervention specialists who can help with partner notification and treatment referrals.

Official, confidential partner notification effectively limits the spread of STIs, particularly  and HIV. The practice also steers those at risk toward appropriate counseling and treatment. And since you can contract some STIs more than once, partner notification reduces your risk of getting reinfected.


  • Abstain
  • Stay with 1 uninfected partner
  • Wait and verify. 
  • Get vaccinated. 
  • Use condoms and dental dams consistently and correctly
  • Don't drink alcohol excessively or use drugs
  • Communicate
  • Teach your child
  • Consider male circumcision

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