Skye Schulte, MS, MPH
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. 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
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.
You should see a doctor right away if you have:
Other symptoms of a STI may include:
(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.
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 diseases in the United States.
(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.
is caused by a specific bacteria, which is transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual intercourse. It can cause sterility,
arthritis, and heart problems in both men and women.
Hepatitis B virus
can cause lifelong infection,
(scarring) of the liver,
liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
herpes simplex virus-1
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
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
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.
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.
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.
is an infestation of the skin with a microscopic mite.
It is often sexually transmitted. However, school children often pass it to one another through casual contact.
is caused by a specific bacteria. 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.
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
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/default.htm. Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Chlamydia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/default.htm. Updated April 30, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and congenital CMV infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cmv/index.html. Updated July 28, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Epigee. Having sex during your period: Q&A. Epigee website. Available at:
http://www.epigee.org/menstruation/sex.html. Accessed Januayr 14, 2014.
Genital herpes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes/default.htm. Updated September 8, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Genital herpes and your baby. Pregnancy Info.net website. Available at:
. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/default.htm. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Hepatitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/default.htm. Updated May 29, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.
HIV/AIDS & STDs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/default.htm. Updated April 28, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Human papillomavirus (HPV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/default.htm. Updated June 10, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Molluscum. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/molluscum/. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Other STDs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/general/other.htm. Updated May 29, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/PID/default.htm. Updated September 13, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Ronco G, Segnan N, Giorgi-Rossi P, et al, for the New Technologies for Cervical Cancer Working Group. Human papillomavirus testing and liquid-based cytology: results at recruitment from the new technologies for cervical cancer randomized controlled trial.
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98:765-774.
Syphilis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/PID/default.htm. Updated April 16, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Trichomoniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/default.htm. Updated September 15, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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