So you know all about protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? Just use a condom, right? Well, what you do not know about STIs could hurt you!
STIs are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or other organisms. The STIs caused by bacteria can be cured with antibiotics. Those caused by viruses cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated.
STIs are usually spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. The viruses and bacteria that cause STIs are normally carried in the semen, vaginal fluids, or blood. They enter the body through tiny tears or cuts in the mouth, anus, or genitals. STIs can be passed from person-to-person even without having sexual intercourse. For instance, someone can contract herpes or genital warts through skin-to-skin contact with an infected sore or area.
There is only one 100% effective way to be sure that you stay STI-free—no sex or intimate physical contact with anyone. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your chance of getting an STI by avoiding high-risk behaviors like unprotected sex, and sex with multiple partners. A latex condom should always be used when having sex.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by a change in the balance of different kinds of bacteria in the vagina. When there are symptoms, they often appear as a form of vaginitis—an irritation of the vagina often associated with a vaginal discharge. BV is not always sexually transmitted, though sexual activity increases the risk.
When diagnosed, Chlamydia can be easily treated and cured. Untreated, chlamydia can cause reproductive and other health problems. It can cause bladder infections and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and sterility in both men and women. It is one of the most frequently reported infectious disease in the United States.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpes virus group. Once infected, a person can carry the virus for life, even though they may never have active symptoms. In babies, CMV can cause permanent disability, including hearing loss and intellectual disability. This virus is also dangerous for people with weakened immune systems. In healthy adults who are infected with CMV, the symptoms may include swollen glands, sore throat, fever, and fatigue.
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which is transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual intercourse. It can cause sterility, arthritis, and heart problems in both men and women.
Both herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) can be sexually transmitted. (HSV-1 is most often associated with cold sores and fever blisters). Like many other viruses, the HSV remains in the body for life. HSV can cause miscarriage or preterm delivery. If active herpes infections are present during childbirth, newborn infants may suffer health problems.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and can cause AIDS. This compromised immune system can make a carrier more susceptible to pneumonia, cancer, and a variety of infections. Like many other viruses, HIV remains in the body for life.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a family of more than 100 common viruses. HPV can cause genital warts. The virus is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Some of these viruses are associated with cervical cancer.
Molluscum contagiosum can be transmitted by nonsexual, intimate contact. Small, pinkish-white, waxy, round polyps grow in the genital area or on the thighs, and there is often a tiny depression in the middle of the growth. Molluscum contagiosum belongs to a family of viruses called poxviruses, and it is generally spread by skin-to-skin contact. It can be spread sexually if growths are present in the genital area.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a progressive infection that harms a woman's reproductive system. It is usually caused by a chlamydia or gonorrhea infection. It can lead to sterility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. PID is often caused by STIs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects that are generally found in the genital area of humans. Pubic lice are usually spread through sexual contact. Rarely, infestation can be spread through contact with an infested person's bed linens, towels, or clothes.
Scabies is an infestation of the skin with the microscopic mite Sarcoptes scabei. It is often sexually transmitted. However, school children often pass it to one another through casual contact.
Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It is passed from person-to- person through direct contact with syphilis sores, which occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. If left untreated, the syphilis can remain in the body for life and lead to disfigurement, neurologic disorder, and death.
Trichomoniasis is a condition caused by a protozoan—a microscopic, one-cell organism. It is a common cause of vaginal infections. It is spread through vaginal intercourse.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
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Last reviewed March 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 3/1/2011