Sexually Transmitted Diseases: An Overview

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

What is an “STD”?

An “STD” is a sexually transmitted disease.  STDs are spread by having sex with someone who has an STD.  You can get a sexually transmitted disease from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus or vagina.

STDs are serious illnesses that require treatment.  Some STDs, such as AIDS, cannot be cured and are deadly.  By learning more about STDs, you can learn ways to protect yourself from these diseases.  STDs include:

  • Genital herpes
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Genital warts
  • Hepatitis B
  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Vaginitis
  • Trichomonas

What are the symptoms of STDs?

Sometimes, there are no symptoms.  If symptoms are present, they might include:

  • Bumps, sores or warts near the mouth, anus, penis or vagina
  • Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina
  • Skin rash
  • Painful urination
  • Weight loss, loose stools, night sweats
  • Aches, pains, fever and chills
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Bleeding from the vagina other than during a monthly period
  • Painful sex
  • Severe itching near the penis or vagina

How can I know if I have an STD?

Talk to your health care provider.  He or she can examine you and perform tests to determine if you have a sexually transmitted disease.  If you think that you have an STD, it’s important to see your health care provider.

Treatment can:

  • Cure many STDs
  • Lessen the symptoms of STDs
  • Make it less likely you will spread the disease
  • Help you to get healthy and stay healthy
  • Provide you with information on how you can prevent getting and spreading STDs

How are STDs treated?

Many STDs are treated with antibiotics.  Antibiotics are medicines that are given as a shot or taken by mouth.

If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STD, it’s important that you take all of your medicine, even if the symptoms go away.  Also, never take someone else’s medicine to treat your illness.  By doing so, you might make it more difficult to treat the infection.  Likewise, you should not share your medicine with others.

How can I protect myself from STDs?

Here are some basic steps you can take to help protect yourself from STDs:

  • Consider that not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
  • Limit you number of sex partners.  The more partners you have, the more likely you are to catch an STD.
  • Practice monogamy.  This means having sex with only one person.  That person must also have sex with only you to reduce your risk.
  • Choose your sex partners with care.  Don’t have sex with someone whom you suspect might have an STD.
  • Get checked for STDs.  Don’t risk giving the infection to someone else.
  • If you have more than one sex partner, always use a condom.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs before you have sex.  You might be less likely to practice safe sex if you are drunk or high.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of STDs.  Look for them in yourself and your sex partners.
  • Learn about STDs.  The more you know about STDs, the better you can protect yourself.

How can I prevent spreading a sexually transmitted disease?

  • Stop having sex until you see a health care provider and are treated.
  • Follow your health care provider’s instructions for treatment.
  • Use condoms whenever you have sex, especially with new partners.
  • Don’t resume having sex unless your health care provider says it’s okay.
  • Return to your health care provider to get rechecked.
  • Be sure your sex partner or partners also are treated.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that a screening test for HIV infection be performed routinely in all individuals age 13 to 64.  Additionally, if you visit your doctor for treatment of STDs, the CDC recommends routine screening for HIV during each visit for a new complaint, regardless if you do or do not practice behaviors that put you at risk for HIV infection.