In This Article
In This Article
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections passed on through sexual contact.1
STDs are common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there are 20 million new STD infections yearly.2
Sexually active men and women who don’t practice safe sex are vulnerable to STDs.
We asked Dr. Rizza Mira, a general practitioner specializing in public health, to shed light on sexually transmitted diseases that commonly affect people.
STDs or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by pathogens. They include disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
More than 30 different pathogens have been linked to STDs.3
Unprotected sexual contact and the exchange of bodily fluids are responsible for most STIs. This doesn’t just happen with vaginal contact but also through oral and anal sex.
Blood transfusions can spread some STDs.4 Using infected needles and tools (e.g., injecting drugs, body piercing, and tattoos) may also cause infections.5
In other cases, pregnant women with STDs pass it to their babies. It can happen while the baby is still in the womb or during childbirth.6
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The symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases may not always be severe and obvious. Sometimes, they can be mild and barely noticeable.
You may have an STD and not know it, which is why regular STD testing is essential. Most common STDs are treatable with medicine.
“Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STD in the U.S.,” says Dr. Mira. It is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis.
Chlamydia can be a silent infection. However, some studies estimate that 10% of men and 5% to 30% of women with the disease develop symptoms.7
Some of them may notice the following signs:
When left untreated, chlamydia can spread to the reproductive system and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).8
Antibiotics can also treat chlamydia. Your doctor might give you a single dose or a round of medication. The infection clears in 1 to 2 weeks in most cases.
Gonorrhea is the next most common bacterial STD. It is caused by Neisseria gonorrhea.9 In 2018, CDC reported about 1.6 million new cases in the U.S.
Many cases of gonorrhea show minimal to almost no signs. The best way to detect if you have it is through STD testing.
But when a person infected with gonorrhea develop symptoms, they may have:
The infection can spread to the fallopian tubes and cause PID if it isn’t treated. At present, doctors treat gonorrhea with a single-shot antibiotic.
“The infected person’s sexual partners in the past 30 days should also be treated for gonorrhea,” says Rizza Mira, M.D.
Hepatitis B is a severe liver infection that can lead to inflammation and tissue damage. It’s caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can be sexually transmitted.
The symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. However, some people who are infected can be asymptomatic and show no signs.
In many cases, a person infected with “Hep B” will show signs between 1 to 4 months after exposure. But they can appear as early as 2 weeks.
Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:
This infection can be short-lived or persistent — lasting longer than 6 months. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis.10
Acute hepatitis B has no exact treatment. But if you vomit frequently, doctors advise replenishing lost fluids to maintain your nutritional balance.
According to Dr. Mira, managing symptoms like abdominal pain, joint pains, and fever is the cornerstone of Hep B treatment.
Chronic hepatitis B is usually managed with medications, like oral antiviral drugs. Treatments can delay and prevent complications, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis has no cure. But you can avoid it through vaccination.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the available vaccine is safe and 98% to 100% effective in protecting against hepatitis B.
Herpes has two types, depending on which Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) caused the infection.
“The location of the blisters, however, are not reliable indicators of which type of herpes virus caused the illness,” says Dr. Mira. This is why you need to get tested for Herpes.
Herpes is a highly contagious and common infection. About 50% to 80% of American adults have oral herpes. While 1 out of 6 people in the U.S. has genital herpes.12
Nearly all people with herpes don't show symptoms. An infected person sometimes confuses mild signs with other skin irritations, like pimples or acne.
The following symptoms describe a herpes outbreak:
Sores may take longer than a week to heal. Outbreaks can repeat, especially for people with HSV-2. But they can become shorter and more tolerable than the first one.
Genital herpes is a lifetime viral infection with no cure. Doctors may give you antiviral treatments, but the disease and its symptoms may continue to recur for years.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a common STD that weakens your immune system. It targets and destroys white blood cells called CD4 or T cells.
Each T cell fights a foreign virus that attacks your body. In turn, people with HIV become more susceptible to infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, and others.13
The first and acute stage of HIV happens within 2 to 4 weeks of contracting the infection. Many people show flu-like symptoms during this stage, such as:
It's easy to confuse these signs with different diseases. The best way to check if you’ve been exposed to the virus is through STD testing.
HIV is a lifetime illness, and there's no cure for it. But urgent care and antiviral medications can slow its progress into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the last stage of HIV.
You can live long and healthy when you take the medications prescribed by your doctor. This helps you keep an undetectable viral load so you won't pass on the infection to others.14
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a group of more than 200 related viruses. It's the most common sexually transmitted disease.
It is estimated that about 80% of sexually active men and women have been infected by the virus.15 HPV has 2 classifications — low-risk and high-risk.
Some low-risk HPVs may give you genital warts. These are warts found in the anus, mouth, or throat. Many people with HPV don’t have symptoms.
This is why doctors suggest a routine Papanicolaou test (also known as a Pap test or Pap smear test) every 5 years for sexually active women.
Experts recommend young women to get their first test at the age of 21. The test can check if an HPV infection causes changes in your cervix.
There are no treatments for the virus because it can clear on its own without causing health problems. But high-risk HPVs may not.
In that case, you become susceptible to cervical cancer and other genital cancers.
There are no treatments for HPV. Most people recover on their own without any complications. However, those infected with high-risk HPVs are more prone to cervical cancer and other genital cancers.
Syphilis is an STD caused by Treponema pallidum. You can get it by coming into contact with syphilis sores during sex.16
It has 4 stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage is characterized by different symptoms.
During the first stage of syphilis, you may see a single sore or more. They’re usually in the genitals, anus, and mouth. You may not even notice them since they're painless.
In the second stage, there will be rashes on your trunk that spread over your body. They’ll show up when your sores are healing or a few weeks after they’ve healed.
There may be rashes on your palms or the soles of your feet. They will look rough, have a red or reddish brown color, and may be itchy or not.
The latent stage is when there are no visible symptoms. General practitioner Rizza Mira explains that as syphilis progresses, the rashes and ulcers may disappear.
“It’s still crucial to receive treatment even if you don’t have symptoms,” Dr. Mira adds. Without treatment, tertiary syphilis can affect your organs and lead to death.
A healthcare provider can diagnose syphilis with a series of tests. Antibiotics can also treat it, but they won’t reverse the damage caused by syphilis.
Trichomoniasis or trich is an STD caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. It’s highly contagious. But it’s also one of the most treatable STDs.17
Up to 70% of infected people don’t have any symptoms, which is why it can spread freely. But they can show up 5 to 28 days after exposure.
Trich symptoms include:
Women are more likely to show signs of infection than men,” says Rizza Mira, M.D.
Anti-infective oral medications can treat trichomoniasis. About 95% of infected women get cleared by a single dose. However, some may need to be treated for 5 to 7 days.
“Treatment of sexual partners is also an important step if you want to totally cure trich,” Dr. Mira adds.
The eight most common STDs:
Most common STDs show very few signs and symptoms, and others won’t at all. You may be unaware that you have it.
Unfortunately, constant check-ups can be embarrassing for most, especially for STDs.
Getting yourself regularly tested for STDs should be a priority if you are sexually active, whether or not you’re showing signs.
Thankfully, innovations have allowed STD testing from the comfort of your home. An at-home STD test can detect common sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Companies like LetsGetChecked can provide online consultations, prescriptions, and medications for added fees. This will help you keep your privacy during treatment.
You can protect yourself, your current partner, and future sexual partners by getting yourself tested for STDs. Still, it would be best to seek a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
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