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. 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
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.
(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 disease 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 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.
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 the microscopic mite
It is often sexually transmitted. However, school children often pass it to one another through casual contact.
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.
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
Alan R. Genital herpes. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated April 6, 2010. Accessed July 9, 2010.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Epigee. Having sex during your period: Q&A. Epigee website. Available at:
http://www.epigee.org/menstruation/sex.html. Accessed July 9, 2010.
Genital herpes and your baby. Pregnancy Info.net website. Available at:
http://www.pregnancy-info.net/stds_herpes_pregnancy.html. Accessed July 9, 2010.
Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 1999.
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.
Last reviewed March 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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