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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

An STD means signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) have developed. An STI happens when bacteria or a virus are spread through oral, genital, or anal sex. Some examples of STDs are HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.

What are the signs and symptoms of an STD?

You may have one or more of the following, depending on the STD:

  • Blisters, warts, sores, or a rash on your skin that may be painful
  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus that may have a foul smell
  • Fever, muscle pain, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin
  • Inflammation and itching
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain, or pain during sex or when urinating
  • Sore throat, mouth ulcers, or trouble swallowing
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sex (women)

What increases my risk for an STD?

  • Unprotected sex
  • Being female
  • Alcohol or illegal drug use
  • More than 1 sex partner
  • Not being vaccinated against certain STIs
  • A weak immune system
  • Open sores or cuts, such as body piercings

How is an STD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. He or she may ask you about your sex history or other medical conditions. He or she will ask if you have had an STD before.

  • Blood and urine tests may show an infection and what kind it is.
  • A sample of discharge may show what is causing your STD.
  • A pelvic exam may be used if you are a woman. A pelvic exam is used to check your vagina, cervix, and other organs.

How is an STD treated?

Treatment depends on the STD you have. Antibiotics may be given for a bacterial infection. Antivirals may be given for a viral infection. Antifungals may be given for a fungal infection, such as a yeast infection. Early treatment may decrease the risk for certain cancers. Early treatment can also help prevent infertility.

How can I help prevent the spread of an STI?

Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the following safe sex practices:

  • Use a male or female condom during sex. This includes oral, genital, or anal sex. Use a new condom each time. Condoms help prevent pregnancy and STIs. Use latex condoms, if possible. Lambskin (also called sheepskin or natural membrane) condoms do not protect against STIs. A polyurethane condom can be used if you or your partner is allergic to latex. Condoms should be used with a second form of birth control to help prevent pregnancy and STIs. Do not use male and female condoms together.
  • Do not have sex with someone who has an STI or STD. This includes oral and anal sex.
  • Limit sex partners. Ask about your partner's sex history before you have sex.
  • Get screened regularly if you are sexually active. Common tests include chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis.
  • Tell your sex partners if you have an STI. Your partners may need to be tested and treated. Do not have sex while you are being treated for an STI. Do not have sex with a partner who is being treated.
  • Ask about medicines to lower your risk for some STIs:
    • Vaccines can help protect you from hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV vaccine is usually given at 11 years, but it may be given through 26 years to both females and males. Your provider can give you more information on vaccines to prevent STIs.
    • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be given if you are at high risk for HIV. PrEP is taken every day to prevent the virus from fully infecting the body.
  • If you are a woman, do not douche. Douching upsets the normal balance of bacteria found in your vagina. It does not prevent or clear up vaginal infections.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have genital swelling or pain, or unusual bleeding.
  • You have joint pain, a rash, swollen lymph nodes, or night sweats.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your symptoms do not go away or get worse, even after treatment.
  • You have bleeding or pain during sex.
  • You or your female partner may be pregnant.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.