What are sexually transmitted diseases?

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are infections you can get by having sex even once with someone who is infected. STDs are very common and usually you can’t tell if your partner is infected. STDs can cause serious health problems, including certain cancers and infertility. If you become pregnant, STDs can cause tubal pregnancy, miscarriage, preterm labor, birth defects, or illnesses in the baby. 

Types of STDs

  • HIV/AIDS- HIV is the virus that causes AIDS and is life-threatening. You can get HIV if you have sex with an infected person. You can also get HIV if you or your partner shares needles with someone who is infected, such as for drugs, tattoos, steroids or antibiotics. Early medical treatment for HIV can help you stay well. It also may help prevent HIV from being passed to the baby if you get pregnant.You should talk with your health care provider about being tested for HIV, even if they have no symptoms. HIV is a lifelong infection, but there is treatment available.
  • Chlamydia- Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease that usually does not cause symptoms, but it can cause serious damage to reproductive organs. Damage such as scars from infection or pelvic pain can be permanent and cause infertility.
  • Gonorrhea- Gonorrhea is very common, and you may have no symptoms. If untreated, it can cause serious damage to reproductive organs. Damage such as scars from infection or pelvic pain can be permanent and cause infertility.
  • Genital herpes- Genital herpes is a lifelong infection that can cause painful genital sores with repeated outbreaks. You can get genital herpes from someone even when they do not have visible sores. If you get pregnant, genital herpes can lead to fatal infections in the baby.
  • Syphilis- Syphilis is a serious infection that can cause severe problems many years after being infected. Although some people do not have noticeable symptoms at first, syphilis can eventually cause damage to the brain, heart, and bones, and it can even cause death. If you get pregnant, syphilis can cause severe problems and death in the baby.
  • Human papillomavirus- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease. You may have no symptoms when infected, but HPV can cause genital warts and several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. A vaccine is now available and regular pap tests are still recommended.
  • Hepatitis B- Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause severe liver disease and liver cancer. If you get pregnant, you can pass the virus to the baby. Newborns infected with hepatitis B virus have a 90% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B, which can cause liver damage, liver cancer, and even death. There is a vaccine available to prevent HBV.

How to prevent STDs

You can prevent STDs by abstaining from sex. You can reduce your risk by being in a monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is not infected. The chance of getting most STDs goes down if you use latex condoms correctly. Your chances go up if you have more than one sexual partner and unprotected sex. For some STDs, you can get infected again after being treated. And, it is very common to get reinfected by the same partner, so all partners should be treated. To prevent STDs, use protection every time you have sex. 

Getting tested also protects you by letting you know if you DO have an STD, so you can get the right treatment to stay healthy and avoid giving it to other people.

For more information about STDs, visit the websites below. You can also call 1-800-367-2437 or 1-888-225-2437 (TDD).

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