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Types of STDs (STIs)

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that you can get by having sex or skin-to-skin contact between genitals with someone who has an STD.

STDs are also sometimes called sexually transmitted infections or STIs. Whatever you call them, they can cause serious health problems. And they happen a lot to young people: About half of all new infections happen to people ages 15 to 24.

There are more than 25 STDs caused by many different bacteria and viruses. Each STD has its own symptoms, but some have similar symptoms. One thing is clear: If you get an unusual discharge, sore, or rash, especially in the pubic area, you should stop having sex and see a doctor right away.

Check out the symptoms, tests, and treatments for common STDs below.

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chart of exposure to STDs

One partner can expose you to many diseases. You are at risk of getting all of the STDs that your partner’s past and present partners have had.

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Chlamydia

What is it?

Chlamydia (say: kluh-MID-ee-uh) is a very common STD. Women who have chlamydia are much more likely to get HIV if they are exposed to it.

Also, if it’s not treated, chlamydia can cause serious problems, like pelvic inflammatory disease and not being able to have a baby.

What are some symptoms?

Because chlamydia often doesn’t cause symptoms, experts recommend that teens who have sex get tested for it every year.

Symptoms can include:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge (not the clear or slightly white fluid women often have)
  • Burning when urinating
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain in your belly area
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Pain during sex

How could you get it?

It is passed through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A mother also can pass it to her baby when the baby goes through her vagina. If you are pregnant, you should get tested for chlamydia.

How do you know if you have it?

A health care provider will test a specimen (a sample of cells) from your vagina or cervix. You might even be able to get the specimen yourself, which is pretty easy.

The provider might test your urine instead.

How is it treated?

Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. Any of your sex partners should be treated, too, in case they caught it (and can give it back to you or someone else). Don’t have sex until your treatment is finished.

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Genital herpes

What is it?

Genital herpes (say: JEN-ih-tul HER-peez) is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes virus that cause genital herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Usually, genital herpes are HSV-2. But a person with HSV-1 — that’s oral herpes or cold sores around a person’s mouth — can pass the virus to another person’s genitals during oral sex.

Genital herpes can increase the risk of HIV infection. That’s because HIV can enter the body more easily where there’s a break in the skin, such as a herpes sore.

What are some symptoms?

Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms can include:

  • Small red bumps, blisters, or open sores in the genital area or anus (bottom) that can hurt a lot
  • Fever, headache, and muscle aches
  • Swollen glands in the genital area
  • Itching or burning in genital area
  • Pain in legs, buttocks, or genital area
  • Pain when urinating

Symptoms may go away and then come back. Sores usually heal after 2 to 4 weeks. If the sores are mild, a person might think they are just bug bites or other skin problem.

How could you get it?

Herpes can be spread by vaginal, anal, and oral sex or other sexual contact. It spreads most easily through contact with open sores, but you also can catch herpes from skin that doesn’t look like it has a sore. Condoms give only limited protection against herpes.

Herpes also can be passed to a baby during birth, which can be very serious.

How do you know if you have it?

Your doctor may be able to see sores and take fluid from them to be sent to a lab for testing. If not, he or she may do a blood test.

How is it treated?

There is no cure, but medicine can help make the times when you have sores shorter and less frequent. Even if you’re taking medicine, you can spread herpes when you have sores, so wait until they’re gone to have sex. And even if you have no sores, there’s still a chance you can pass along the disease. If you have several outbreaks in a year, a daily medicine may lower your chance of spreading herpes.

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Gonorrhea

What is it?

Gonorrhea (say: gon-uh-REE-uh) is a common STD. Recently, it has gotten harder to treat successfully because germs have built up resistance (strength) in fighting the medicine used against them.

Having gonorrhea can make you more likely to get HIV if you’re exposed to it. Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious problems, including not being able to get pregnant, even if you don't have symptoms. It can also sometimes spread to the blood, joints, heart, or even the brain.

Any young person who has had sex should be tested for gonorrhea.

What are some symptoms?

Most people have no symptoms or just mild ones. Symptoms can include:

  • Yellow or green vaginal discharge that may smell bad
  • Pain or burning when urinating (peeing)
  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods

Gonorrhea infection can also be in your throat, which may cause a sore throat. It can also spread to your eyes, causing symptoms like pain and sensitivity to light.

It can also be in your anus (bottom). Symptoms there include:

  • Anal discharge
  • Anal itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements

How could you get it?

You can get gonorrhea during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has it. It also can be passed to a baby when the baby goes through your vagina during birth and can cause serious problems for the baby.

How do you know if you have it?

Your doctor will do a urine test or take a specimen (a small sample of cells, such as from your cervix or vagina) to test.

How is it treated?

Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics, but some cases can be harder to treat. Any partners need to be treated, too, or you can pass the infection back and forth. Don’t have sex until you and any partners finish treatment.

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Hepatitis B

What is it?

Hepatitis B (say: hep-uh-TEYE-tuhs B) is caused by a virus that attacks the liver. It’s also called HBV. If hepatitis B doesn’t go away, it can lead to liver cancer and other serious liver problems.

Most babies now get vaccinated for HBV. Talk to your doctor or look at your health records to see if you were vaccinated. If not, you should get the shots now to help prevent this serious illness.

What are some symptoms?

You may have no symptoms, or you may have some, including:

  • Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of the eyes
  • Tiredness
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low fever
  • Headache or muscle aches
  • Hives or skin rash
  • Joint pain and swelling

Symptoms usually appear about 6 to 12 weeks after you get infected.

How could you get it?

You can get hepatitis B when an infected person’s blood, semen, or other bodily fluid enters your body. This can happen during sex. It can also happen if you:

  • Share drug needles with an infected person
  • Get a tattoo or piercing using a needle with the virus on it
  • Use an infected person’s toothbrush or razor

A baby also can get hepatitis B from its mother during birth. If you are pregnant, get tested. See below for other reasons a person may need to be tested.

How do you know if you have it?

A blood test determines if you have it. If you are pregnant, you need to be tested. People who face a higher risk of possibly getting hepatitis B also should get tested. Ask your doctor about testing if:

  • You were born in a country where hepatitis B is common (such as countries in Africa and Asia)
  • You were born in the United States but one of your parents was born in a country where hepatitis B is common and you did not get a hepatitis B vaccine as a baby
  • You live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • You have other risks for hepatitis B, like using injection drugs, having HIV, or having sex with someone who has hepatitis B

You can learn more about hepatitis B.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for hepatitis B. Often, it goes away without treatment, but some young people can develop life-long problems from it. Hepatitis B may be treated with certain medicines that can help slow down the infection. These medicines are not safe for pregnant women.

If you have recently been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, see a doctor right away. You may be able to get treatment to lower the risk of coming down with the disease.

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HIV/AIDS

What is it?

Human immunodeficiency (say: IH-myoo-noh-di-FISH-uhn-see) virus, or HIV, is the virus that can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV and AIDS weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. Learn more about HIV/AIDS.

What are some symptoms?

Women and girls with HIV may have no symptoms for years. Even if HIV causes no symptoms, it is still causing problems with your body’s immune system that need treatment as early as possible. HIV can lead to AIDS.

Some people have flu-like symptoms within the first few weeks or months after they get infected with HIV.

Some people have flu-like symptoms within the first few weeks or months after they get infected with HIV.

Symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Weight loss
  • Fevers, chills, and night sweats
  • Being very tired
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
  • Mouth, genital, or anal sores
  • Dry cough
  • Rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Other STDs (STIs), vaginal yeast infections, and other vaginal infections
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that does not get better with treatment
  • Menstrual cycle changes, like not having periods or having heavy bleeding
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer

You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. More than half of young people with HIV don’t know they have it.

You have to get tested to know if you have HIV.

Get tested at least once if:

  • You are 15 or older
  • You are younger than 15 but do things that put you at an increased risk of HIV, such as having unprotected sex or having sex with someone who uses injection drugs
  • You are pregnant

Your doctor may suggest that you get tested more than once if you do things that increase your risk of HIV, such as have unprotected sex or use injection drugs. Find a place to get tested.

How could you get it?

You can get infected with HIV when blood, semen (cum), pre-semen (pre-cum), vaginal fluid, anal mucus (fluids in your anus), or breast milk from an infected person enters your body. This can happen during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. It also can happen when these fluids get into an open wound or sore. You also can get HIV from sharing needles for drugs, tattoos, or piercings with an infected person.

Babies can get HIV during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Treatments can lower the risk during pregnancy and birth, but mothers with HIV should not breastfeed.

You can’t get HIV from casual contact, like sneezing or touching.

How do you know if you have it?

HIV tests use blood, oral fluids, or urine. You can ask your doctor or a health clinic about testing. Only two home tests are approved by the FDA: Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System and OraQuick In-Home HIV Test. Be careful: You can buy other HIV home tests online, but they are not approved by the FDA and may give wrong results.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that help infected people live longer and healthier lives. It’s important to get treatment early.

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Human papillomavirus (HPV)

What is it?

Human papillomavirus (say: PAP-uh-LOH-muh-veye-ruhs), or HPV, is the most common STD in the United States. In fact, most people who have sex get it at some point in their lives.

HPV often goes away on its own. But some types of HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and other types of cancer.

The HPV vaccine can help prevent the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Ask your parents or doctor about getting vaccinated. Keep in mind that the vaccine works much better if you get it before you ever have sex.

What are some symptoms?

Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms can include:

  • Warts on the genitals or inner thighs or around the anus (bottom). These can be flat or raised and alone or in groups. They may cause itching, burning, or pain.
  • Growths on the cervix and vagina that the person often can’t see

HPV can be passed to a partner even if the infected person has no symptoms.

How could you get it?

Most often, HPV is passed during vaginal or anal sex. You can also get it through oral sex or through contact between your genitals and the genitals of someone with HPV.

How do you know if you have it?

Your doctor may look at the genital area to check for warts. A Pap test can find cervical cell changes early, so they can be treated before they turn into cancer.

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for HPV, but there are treatments for the conditions that it can cause, like genital warts and cervical cell changes. For example, warts can be removed through special medications or through minor surgery.

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Pubic lice

What is it?

Lice (a kind of tiny insect) that feed on human blood. Also known as “crabs.”

What are some symptoms?

Symptoms can include:

  • Itching in the pubic area
  • Finding lice or eggs attached to your pubic hair
  • Sores from bites or scratching
  • Rust-colored spots on your underwear
  • Mild fever and tiredness if you’ve been bitten by a large number of lice

How could you get it?

Usually a person gets it through skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has it. It’s also possible to get it from things like towels, sheets, and clothes.

How do you know if you have it?

You may be able to see the lice yourself, but a doctor can tell you if you have them. If you have lice, the doctor should check you for other STDs.

How is it treated?

A prescription or over-the-counter medicine can kill the adult lice and egg lice. You should also wash any sheets and clothes that could have lice in them, using hot water. You should avoid sexual contact until your treatment is finished.

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Syphilis

What is it?

Syphilis (say: SIF-uh-luss) that is not treated can lead to serious problems and even death. Also, the sores caused by syphilis make it easier to get or give someone HIV during sex.

What are some symptoms?

An infected person may not have any symptoms for years, but he or she can still give the disease to someone else. Different stages have different symptoms.

Symptoms in the first (primary) stage appear 10 to 90 days after getting infected. They include:

  • A painless sore, usually in the genital area, but possibly on the lips or other parts of the body that had contact with a syphilis sore from another person.
  • Swollen lymph glands

Sores heal on their own in around 3 to 6 weeks. But if the infection is not treated, a secondary stage follows. Symptoms of that stage include:

  • Rash on the palms and soles of the feet that usually doesn’t itch and goes away on its own
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph glands and sore throat
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Raised gray, warty-looking areas in moist places, such as your genital area, armpits, and anus (bottom)
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness

If the infection is still not treated, it moves on to a hidden (latent) stage. Then it can possibly enter a last stage. During this stage there can be damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, and blood vessels. Some people may even die.

How could you get it?

You can get syphilis through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores usually are on the genitals, vagina, or anus (bottom). Sores also can be on the lips and in the mouth. That means you can get it during vaginal, anal, or oral sex but also by touching a sore with an open cut you have.

A pregnant woman also can pass syphilis to the baby she is carrying, which can be very dangerous. If you are pregnant, get tested.

How do you know if you have it?

A health care professional can do a blood test or take a sample from a sore to learn if you have syphilis.

How is it treated?

If it is treated early, syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.

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Trichomoniasis

What is it?

Trichomoniasis (say: TRIK-uh-muh-NEYE-uh-suhss) is caused by a parasite (a tiny organism that feeds off you). It is sometimes called “trich." Trichomoniasis is very common in sexually active young women. Having trichomoniasis increases your chances of getting HIV if you’re exposed to it.

What are some symptoms?

Some women don’t have symptoms, but those who do can have symptoms appear between 5 and 28 days after getting infected. Symptoms can include:

  • Foamy, yellow-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor
  • Discomfort during sex and when urinating
  • Irritation and itching of the genital area
  • Sometimes, lower abdominal pain

How could you get it?

You can get trichomoniasis from vaginal sex or skin-to-skin genital contact.

How do you know if you have it?

Your health care provider will likely give you a pelvic exam and take a sample of your vaginal fluid to test. If you have trichomoniasis, your doctor should check you for other STDs.

How is it treated?

Trichomoniasis usually can be cured with antibiotics. Your partner should be treated, too. You should not have sex until the treatment is finished and you both have no symptoms.

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 29, 2014

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