Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The transmission of the most common STDs in the United States can be greatly reduced or preventable when practicing safe sex. Most STDs are passed from one person to another during vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.
Many STDs don’t cause a person to feel symptoms or cause mild symptoms often mistaken for something else. It is necessary that you take care of your personal health and have regular screenings for the most common STDs. Because many people don’t have any symptoms, they may not even know they are exposing their partners to the infection.
1. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States with an estimated 80% of individuals testing positive at some point in their lifetime. HPV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse or even through skin-to-skin contact. While there are over 40 types of HPV, most cause no symptoms. Depending on the type of HPV, it can cause genital warts or even some types of cancer.
There are multiple vaccines that are now available: Gardasil, Gardasil - 9, and Cevarix. The newest of the vaccines, Gardasil-9, is now FDA approved for both men and women 9 - 45 years of age. It is important to remember the vaccine is not a cure for HPV, but may help prevent acquiring the virus and therefore the related cancers it may cause. Speak with your doctor about the vaccine that is best for you. If you have not been vaccinated, you can reduce your risk of HPV by properly using condoms but know they do not fully protect against transmission.
While HPV is the most sexually transmitted infection in the United States, chlamydia is the most common STD in the United States. This is an STD that must be reported to local health departments to allow the state and national agencies help study and reduce the spread of the infection. The treatment of chlamydia is simple and easily cured with antibiotics, but the infection can cause serious damage to a woman’s reproductive organs.
When infected with chlamydia only 25% of women have symptoms and only 50% of men have symptoms. Therefore, the CDC recommends annual testing for those 18 - 24 years of age or those with new or multiple sexual partners at any age. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important you get tested immediately.
The second most reported STD in the United States, gonorrhea is very common in young men and women under the age of 24. Spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex puts many people at risk for gonorrhea. Symptoms are similar to chlamydia and people often are treated for both STDs together.
While abstinence is the only true way to protect yourself from chlamydia or gonorrhea you can help reduce your risk by using latex condoms and staying in a monogamous relationship. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to increased transmission of HIV and pelvic inflammatory disease in women. If you feel as though you may have contracted gonorrhea, call your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment for screening.
Syphilis is one of the most common STDs in the United States and is broken up into 4 stages. In the first stage the person infected will receive sores and bumps around the genital and anal area. In the second stage there will be a skin rash, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. This infection is difficult to discover in the first stage due to the fact that the sores around the genital area can be mistaken for ingrown hairs or cuts. After the first stage sores move into the mouth, vagina, and anus along with the rash and fever.
While many people catch syphilis in the first two stages if it goes untreated many symptoms do not usually appear in the third stage. If the disease continues into the fourth stage it can lead to severe medical issues regarding nerve and organ damage. If you see any symptoms contact your doctor for a screening. If you do test positive, it is treatable with an antibiotic before the fourth stage.
Many people are misinformed and believe that in order to get herpes their partner must be suffering from an outbreak at the moment. This is not true. Most cases of herpes don’t show symptoms and can be transmitted even without any sign of an infection. There are two strains of herpes - HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both of these strains can cause genital herpes, but only HSV-1 can cause oral herpes. Many people infected with HSV-1 were infected as children from non-sexual contact with saliva.
This is one of the easier STDs to catch, even when using a condom correctly. All it takes is skin-to-skin contact where areas are uncovered. While a person is most contagious when they have blisters they can pass along the virus at any moment. Since this is a virus it cannot be cured, but there is medication to greatly reduce the symptoms and length of the outbreak.
If you have an STD or have had an STD in the past, you are more susceptible to acquiring HIV. If there is a break in your skin, HIV has the ability to enter your body more easily. HIV is passed through bodily fluids like blood, vaginal fluids, and semen. While you can’t get HIV from saliva, you can get HIV through vaginal or anal intercourse, as well as sharing needles.
Symptoms for HIV can be very vague almost feeling similar to the flu with fatigue, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. However, some people may never receive symptoms until they develop the most advanced stage of HIV which is AIDS. You must be sure to take care of your body and be tested every few months for HIV to receive treatment as soon as possible.
Women are more susceptible to trichomoniasis than men. This is transmitted through genital contact from male to female, female to female, or male to male. Trichomoniasis is caused by an infection from a parasite. Similar to many of the other most common STDs nearly 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis often do not receive symptoms. Thankfully this is easily cured with a dose of antibiotics; however, it is recommended to do a follow-up screening 3 months after treatment. To avoid reinfection, be sure your sexual partner(s) have been tested and treated as well.
In the End
Whether you begin to show symptoms of one or not for these STD’s,it is important to still undergo regular screenings. To prevent yourself from getting any STDs, practice safe sex using a condom and potentially a monogamous relationship with a person you also know has been tested. These STDs can lead to serious issues down the line if left untreated, especially for women looking to bear children in their future. Today, many young people do not practice safe sex leading to a large number of young adults spreading STDs. Do not be embarrassed of screenings as you are protecting yourself! Keep your testing anonymous and to yourself with a kit from SelfCollect.