STI Guide

Approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted infections (STI) occur each year, most of them among teenagers or young adults. Anyone who engages in sexual activity (vaginal, oral or anal) is at risk for getting a STI. The risk of contracting STIs increases with the number of sex partners and with unprotected sex. If you are sexually active you should be tested regularly because many STIs do not exhibit symptoms —often infected persons do not know they are infected.

Read on to learn about some of the most common STI’s:

Chlamydia | Gonorrhea | Genital Herpes | Genital Warts | Syphilis | Hepatitis B | HIV/AIDS

To reduce the risk of STIs

The leading strategies to prevent and/or reduce STIs are:

  • Abstinence
  • Correct and consistent condom use.
  • Refrain from sexual contact with infected persons.
  • Limit the number of sex partners, and choose carefully.
  • Always use a latex condom during sex, even if using another method of birth control such as the Pill or Depo-Provera (the shot).
  • Talk with a sex partner about sexual history, STIs, and safer sex.
  • Visit your health care provider for regular check-ups and check yourself frequently for STI symptoms.

If you think you have an STI…..

  • Stop engaging in sexual activity to prevent the spread of the infection
  • Inform your health care provider.
  • Sometimes, early in infection, there may be no symptoms, or symptoms may be confused with other illnesses. Call a center or your doctor if you have any of these STI symptoms:
    • Discharge from vagina, penis or rectum
    • Pain or burning during urination or intercourse
    • Pain in the abdomen (women), testicles (men), or buttocks and legs (both)
    • Blisters, open sores, warts, rash, or swelling in the genital or anal areas or mouth
    • Persistent flu-like symptoms–including fever, headache, aching muscles, or swollen glands-which may precede STI symptoms.

Get Tested Now

Contact your local family planning center for confidential and low cost or free testing. Find a location now or call 1-800-367-6347 or 1-866-SAFETEENS.If you have questions or concerns that need immediate attention, call the National STI/AIDS Hotline at 800-342-2437 (800-342-AIDS) and speak to a health communication specialist directly.

Chlamydia
What is it?
A highly contagious bacterial infection, Chlamydia is the most common STI. There are approximately 4 million new infections each year. It is very common among teens and young adults. Sexually active individuals should be tested at least once a year.

How is it harmful?
It can cause cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Women with Chlamydia might not be able to become pregnant or, if they do, the pregnancy can occur in the fallopian tubes, a potentially fatal occurrence.

What are the symptoms?
For women, Chlamydia usually has no symptoms at all. If symptoms do occur, they are: unusual discharge, unexplained bleeding or pain during urination. For men, discharge, pain during urination or testicular pain.

What is the treatment?
Antibiotics; however, long-term complications (such as infertility) may not be reversible.

Gonorrhea
What is it?
A common sexually transmitted bacterial infection. In addition to infecting the cervix or urethra, it can infect the throat or rectum. Sexually active individuals should be tested at least once a year.

How is it harmful?
It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women and severe inflammation of the urinary tract in men. It can cause severe arthritis (Reiter’s syndrome) in women and men; if the mother is infected at the time of delivery, it can cause blindness in newborns.

What are the symptoms?
For women, the early stages usually have no symptoms. Symptoms usually occur 2-3 weeks after infection and can include vaginal discharge or recurring irritation. For men, gonorrhea usually includes penile discharge and severe burning during urination.

What is the treatment?
Antibiotics; however, long-term complications (such as infertility) may not be reversible.

Genital Herpes
What is it?
A recurrent, incurable viral infection usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 2. It is highly contagious, especially when the sores are present and until they are completely healed. Since herpes sores often spread to the area around the genitals, condoms may not protect from contact with the sores.

How is it harmful?
Causes periodic eruptions of painful sores on the genitals and surrounding areas of males and females.

What are the symptoms?
Sores, fever, chills, muscle aches, tiredness and headaches, swollen or sore lymph nodes, burning during urination, difficulty urinating, and genital discharge. However, some people may have no symptoms at all.

What is the treatment?
There is no cure. Certain drugs may control the signs and symptoms, but they do not affect the risk, frequency or severity of outbreaks after the drug has been discontinued.

Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)
What is it?
There are more than 20 types of HPV that can infect the genital area. HPV can be transmitted either by touching the wart or by sexual intercourse; for this reason, condoms don’t always protect against transmission.

How is it harmful?
Some types have been associated with abnormal cell growth that, if not treated, can lead to cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms?
Most types of HPV have no symptoms, but some cause warts in the genital and/or anal areas of males and females. Warts can be painful and may bleed or discharge pus.

What is the treatment?
Medication may remove the warts. If left untreated, visible warts may resolve on their own, return unchanged, or increase in size and number. Removing warts may not alter the course of infection, make one less contagious, or make one less susceptible to cervical cancer caused by HPV.

HPV Vaccine:
In June, 2006 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against 2 types of HPV that cause 70% of all cervical cancers (HPV 16 and 18) and 2 types of HPV that cause 90% of all genital warts (HPV 6 and 11). The other types of HPV will NOT be prevented by use of the vaccine.

Syphilis
What is it?
A very serious bacterial infection that infects the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

How is it harmful?
It may lead to paralysis, blindness, insanity, disfiguration, and eventual death. Can also cause severe birth defects to babies whose mothers are infected.

What are the symptoms?
There are three stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary symptoms usually appear within three weeks of infection and include: fever, aches, patchy baldness, or sores (chancres) at the site of infection. Since the sores may develop high in the vagina, urethra, or rectum, they may go unnoticed. Secondary symptoms include rash and swelling of the lymph nodes. Possible symptoms of the final stage include tumors and problems with the heart, nervous system, vision, and hearing.

What is the treatment?
Antibiotics; however, long-term complications (such as neurological damage) may not be reversible.

Hepatitis B
What is it?
A viral disease that kills liver cells and replaces them with scar tissue. Is transmitted not only through sex, but also by exposure to body fluids. Most of the 300,000 Americans who get Hepatitis B each year are teenagers and young adults.

How is it harmful?
Hepatitis B can lead to cancer or even death.
What are the symptoms? – Often has no symptoms. In the mildest cases, it may go away on its own. Some people become permanent carriers of the disease and can give it to others; some develop chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. Symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, and symptoms similar to those of a stomach virus (nausea, tiredness).

What is the treatment?
There is no cure. Treatment includes rest, combined with high-protein diet to repair damaged cells and high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet to repair damaged liver cells and protect from further damage. However, Hepatitis B is the only STI that can be prevented by a vaccine, consisting of three shots.

Who should be vaccinated?
Everyone 18 years of age and younger, as well as adults who are at risk (ex., those who have more than one sex partner, men who have sex with other men, injection drug users, health care workers, and others who might be exposed to infected blood or body fluids).

HIV/AIDS
What is it?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV is transmitted through body fluids (semen and blood), through sexual intercourse, sharing needles, receiving contaminated blood or blood products, and from mother to child during pregnancy. HIV is not spread by touching, kissing, sneezing, coughing, sharing silverware, cups or dishes. It is not spread by swimming pools, showers, toilet seats, drinking fountains, or insect bites.

How is it harmful?
Can lead to the development of rare cancers, seizures, and dementia. May be fatal.

What are the symptoms?
A person can be infected with HIV without having AIDS. It can take as long as 10 years for HIV infection to cause AIDS; this time span is growing due to available drug treatments.

What is the treatment?
There is no cure for either HIV or AIDS. Certain medications can be taken to lengthen the time between HIV infection and the development of AIDS. These must be taken according to a strict schedule, are very expensive, and can cause many unpleasant side effects.