STDs / HIV

Sexually transmitted diseases — VD, love bugs, the clap, the drip — whatever you call them, they are serious. 19 million people in the United States will get an STD this year. And of these, half will be under the age of 24 Whether or not you are having sex, it’s important to know what these infections are, how you get them, and how you can avoid them.

Here are some basic things that you should know:

What they are:
STDs are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. As a general rule, infections caused by bacteria and parasites can be cured. If you take the medication correctly, the infection goes away and the symptoms will not come back (unless you get it again). Infections caused by viruses cannot be cured. You can treat the symptoms, but the virus will always be inside your body and symptoms may come back.

How you get them:
Different STDs are passed in different ways. Some are passed through infected body fluids. Others are passed from an infected person to someone else through skin-to-skin contact. All STDs can be passed during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner. Some STDs can also be passed through skin-to-skin contact during other sexual activities. You don’t get STDs from hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilet seats, or touching doorknobs.

How you know you have one:
The truth is sometimes it’s hard to know whether you have an STD. A lot of people who are infected with STDs have no symptoms. There is no way to tell if another person has an STD just by looking at them. The only way to know for sure is to see a healthcare provider and get tested.

How you test for them and treat them:
There are a bunch of different places where you can go to get tested for STDs. You can go to your regular doctor or you could find a family planning or STD clinic like those run by local health departments or hospitals. To find an STD clinic near you go to www.hivtest.org.

It’s important for anyone who has had oral, vaginal, or anal sex to get tested for STDs. Remember, STDs can be passed by other sexual activities that involve skin-to-skin contact. So if you’ve done those you might want to think about getting tested too. People who are having sex should get tested at least once a year or when they get a new sexual partner.

The most common ways that healthcare providers test for STDs include collecting urine, taking blood, or swabbing the mouth, throat, penis, or cervix. Most routine exams and physicals don’t include STD tests, so be sure to ask for them specifically. Once you know if you have an STD and which STD you have, your healthcare provider will help you decide what to do. They may prescribe a medicine that can cure your infection. If they do, you have to take all of your medicine— even if your symptoms go away. For STDs that can’t be cured, your healthcare provider can help you by treating the symptoms.If you are diagnosed with an STD, make sure to tell any sexual partners you have had so that they can also get tested and treated.

What they can do:
Getting tested for STDs is so important because many of them - even the ones that can be cured - can lead to long-term and serious health problems if they are not caught and treated early.

Reducing Your Risk
One of the responsibilities of being sexually active is learning how to protect yourself from STDs. The most effective way to avoid contact with STDs is not to engage in any kind of sexual behavior with another person. This is a choice that you can make at any point in your life or at any point in a relationship. If you choose to be sexually active, there are other ways to reduce your risk. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to get an STD, so your first step is to consider limiting the number of partners you have. The next thing you want to think about is how risky you are being. It is also very important to use a latex condom during oral, vaginal, or anal sex or a dental dam during oral sex. Condoms and dental dams provide a barrier that can stop the germs that cause STDs from being passed between people. Condoms and dental dams can’t prevent all STDs - especially if they aren’t covering the infected parts. But, just because they aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you should have sex without them. Using condoms and dental dams every time you have sex will provide some protection and using them is much safer than not using them.

There are over 25 STDs that you can get. Here are some of the most common:

Chlamydia

What it is:
Chlamydia is an infection caused by a bacteria. In men and women Chlamydia can infect the urethra, anus, or throat. In women, Chlamydia can also infect the cervix, uterus, or fallopian tubes.

How you get it:
Chlamydia is passed from an infected person through semen or discharge from the vagina or cervix.

How you know you have it:
Most people infected with Chlamydia don’t have any symptoms at all. Men who have symptoms may feel heaviness and discomfort in their testicles, pain or burning during urination, or pus coming out of their penis. Symptoms in women may include itching, vaginal discharge, or burning during urination.

How you test for it and treat it:
Your healthcare provider can find out whether you have Chlamydia by testing your urine or swabbing your penis, cervix, or throat. If you do have Chlamydia, they will give you antibiotics to cure the infection. Ignoring it won’t help and you cannot treat Chlamydia with over-the-counter medicines. You must see a healthcare provider.

What it can do:
If left untreated, Chlamydia can cause scar tissue in the urethra, uterus, or fallopian tubes. This can make it very difficult to get pregnant or get someone pregnant.

Back to Top

Gonorrhea

What it is:
Gonorrhea is an infection caused by bacteria. In men and women gonorrhea can infect the urethra, anus, eyes, or throat. In women, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix, uterus, or fallopian tubes.

How you get it:
Gonorrhea is passed from an infected person through semen or discharge from the vagina or cervix.

How you know you have it:
Most people infected with gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms at all. Men who have symptoms may have a yellowish discharge coming from their penis, burning or pain during urination, frequent urination, and pain or swelling in their testicles. Symptoms in women may include a yellow or bloody discharge from the vagina and pain or burning during urination.

How you test for it and treat it:
Your healthcare provider can find out whether you have gonorrhea by swabbing your penis, cervix, or throat. If you do have gonorrhea, they will give you antibiotics to cure the infection. Ignoring it won’t help and you cannot treat gonorrhea with over-the-counter medicines. You must see a healthcare provider.

What it can do:
If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause scar tissue in the urethra, uterus, or fallopian tubes. This can make it very difficult to get pregnant or get someone pregnant.

Back to Top

Crabs or Pubic Lice

What it is:
Crabs, or pubic lice, are parasites that attach to pubic hair. They are not the same kind of lice as the kind that attach to the hair on your head.

How you get it:
Crabs move from the pubic hair of an infected person to the pubic hair of another. Most cases of crabs are passed during sexual behavior, but you can also get crabs by sleeping in a bed, using towels, or wearing clothes that have crabs on them.

How you know you have it:
Most people infected with crabs will feel intense itching in their pubic hair. You can sometimes see crabs yourself if you look closely.

How you test for it and treat it:
There is no test for crabs. If you are experiencing symptoms or think you may have been exposed to them, contact your healthcare provider. There are over-the-counter creams and shampoos that can get rid of pubic lice. You will also need to wash all of your clothes, towels, and sheets.

What it can do:
There aren’t usually any long-term effects from crabs.

Back to Top

HPV or Genital Warts

What it is:
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. The virus can cause warts to grow on the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, scrotum, urethra, or anus.

How you get it:
HPV is passed from an infected person through direct skin-to-skin contact.

How you know you have it:
Warts are small, raised bumps that do not itch or hurt. You may see them or your healthcare provider may see them during an exam. In women, the virus might be detected during a routine gynecological test called a pap smear. Most people infected with HPV will never know they have it.

How you test for it and treat it:
Your healthcare provider may be able to see warts during an exam, but may want more tests to confirm that it is HPV. There is no cure for HPV, but there are a couple of different ways of removing warts. If left alone, warts might disappear on their own, but HPV will stay in your body and the warts could come back. Even though warts may go away on their own, you should still see a healthcare provider.

What it can do:
Most HPV infections do not cause long-term harm in either women or men. Some HPV infections can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Even if you have HPV, you can prevent cancer by being open with your healthcare provider about your infection and getting regular medical care. Women should also have regular pap smears which can detect changes in the cervix before they become cancer.

Back to Top

Genital Herpes

What it is:
Genital herpes is a recurring skin condition caused by a virus. The virus causes sores on the mouth, vulva, penis, scrotum, anus, buttocks, or thighs.

How you get it:
Genital herpes is passed from an infected person through direct skin-to-skin contact.

How you know you have it:
Many people with genital herpes may experience very mild or no symptoms and not realize that they have the virus. Other people get sores, blisters, cuts, pimples, bumps, or rashes that may itch, burn, or ooze. These symptoms can go away on their own, but the virus is still in the body. Some people might only ever get one outbreak of genital herpes, for other people sores may reappear throughout their life.

How you test for it and treat it:
Your healthcare provider may be able to see genital herpes sores during an exam, but may also want to swab them to confirm that it is herpes. There is also a blood test for genital herpes. There is no cure for herpes. People can take medicines to help them heal faster and have fewer outbreaks. Even though sores may go away on their own, you should still see a healthcare provider.

What it can do:
Most genital herpes infections do not cause long term harm in either women or men. People with herpes are at increased risk for contracting another STD.

Back to Top

HIV/AIDS

What it is:
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV causes AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. HIV and AIDS attack the body’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off infections and diseases.

How you get it:
HIV is passed from an infected person through blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk.

How you know you have it:
HIV infection itself usually has no symptoms so at first, most people who are infected with HIV probably won’t realize that they have it. Over time people may start to feel some of the symptoms of AIDS like fever, chills, heavy sweats, chronic fatigue, appetite or weight loss, muscle and joint pain, long-lasting sore throat, swollen glands, diarrhea, yeast infections, or skin sores.

How you test for it and treat it:
The only way to know for sure whether you are infected with HIV is to get tested for it. Your healthcare provider can swab your mouth or test your blood or urine. In order for the test to be accurate, you have to wait 3 months from the last time you think you could have been exposed to HIV. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. There are a number of medicines that can help people with HIV/AIDS stay healthy for longer periods of time.

What it can do:
HIV/AIDS can be a fatal disease. HIV weakens the body’s defenses against illness. Most people who have HIV will develop AIDS which means that they will get serious, and possibly deadly, diseases.

To find out more about STDs check out www.iwannaknow.org or www.ashastd.org To find out more about HIV/AIDS check out www.thebody.com or to find a local HIV test site, visit www.hivtest.org. You can also call CDC-INFO, 800/232-4636;TTY 800/232-6348 for general information and referrals to local health care providers.

Back to Top