What You Need to Know About the 8 Most Common STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)

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While anyone can contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) at any age, 15- to 24-year-year-olds account for half of all new STD infections, according to the CDC. Whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, having unprotected sex can expose you to STDs, some of which can seriously affect your health, possibly fatally.

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

You don’t have to “go all the way” (anal or vaginal sex) to get an STD because some, such as herpes and HPV, can be spread just by skin-to-skin contact. If you think you might have an STD, it’s very important for you to come into Westchester Health Pediatrics and get tested. If you do in fact have an STD, it’s crucial that you get treated right away, hopefully while the infection is in its early stages.

What’s discussed with us stays with us

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, many of our patients, especially teenagers, come to us for treatment for an STD, or to be tested because they’re worried they might have one. We want you to know that whatever is discussed with us—any aspect of sex or sexuality—remains confidential. If you have an STD, we’ll provide treatment, explain your options and help you choose the next steps. Most of all, we want to help you get and stay healthy in any way we can.

One of the best ways to prevents STDs? Use a condom, every time

Condoms (both male and female versions) are the safest method to reduce the risk of STDs and should always be used, every time you have sex.

The 8 most common STDs: symptoms and treatment

1) Chlamydia

A bacterial infection of the genital tract, chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease that can be easily cured. If left untreated, however, chlamydia can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant. In its early stage, chlamydia causes few or no symptoms, which makes it hard to detect. Symptoms usually show up 1-3 weeks after a person has been exposed to it.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • painful urination
  • lower abdominal pain
  • vaginal discharge in women
  • discharge from the penis in men
  • pain during sexual intercourse in women
  • testicular pain in men

Treatment:

Chlamydia is usually easily treated with a short course of antibiotics.

2) Gonorrhea

Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection of the genital tract, sometimes referred to as “the clap.” Gonorrhea is easily treated but can cause serious and sometimes permanent complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease in women which can cause infertility. If untreated, gonorrhea can increase a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV. In addition, gonorrhea and chlamydia can be experienced simultaneously. Symptoms usually appear 2-10 days after exposure. However, some people may be infected for months before symptoms occur.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • thick, cloudy or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina
  • pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • abnormal menstrual bleeding
  • painful, swollen testicles
  • painful bowel movements
  • anal itching
  • red, swollen, warm, painful joints
  • painful sexual intercourse
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • sore throat, itching, difficulty swallowing
  • swollen neck lymph nodes

Treatment:

  • antibiotics
  • abstaining from sexual intercourse until treatment is complete (there is still a risk of complications and spreading of the infection)
  • repeat testing in some cases

3) Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis which spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who has the infection. It usually infects the urinary tract in men and the vagina in women. Although symptoms vary, most people who have the parasite can’t tell they are infected.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • clear, white, greenish or yellowish vaginal discharge
  • strong vaginal odor
  • vaginal itching or irritation
  • discharge from the penis
  • itching or irritation inside the penis
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • painful urination

Treatment:

Trichomoniasis is typically treated with medication (metronidazole or tinidazole).

4) HIV/AIDS

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) inhibits your body’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which is a chronic, life-threatening disease. When first infected with HIV, many people develop flu-like symptoms which are often mistaken for other viral infections. More severe symptoms of HIV infection may not appear for 10 years or more after the initial infection. No effective cure exists for HIV. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • fever
  • persistent headaches
  • sore throat
  • swollen lymph glands
  • rash
  • fatigue
  • chronic diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • cough and shortness of breath
  • soaking night sweats
  • shaking chills or fever higher than 100.4 F for several weeks
  • unusual, opportunistic infections

Treatment:

HIV treatment involves taking a combination of drugs called antiretroviral therapy (ART) which reduces the amount of virus (or viral load) in an infected person’s blood and body fluids. ART is usually taken as a combination of 3 or more drugs.

5) Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a highly contagious STD and is caused by two types of viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). One out of every six people 14-49 years old have genital herpes, yet most don’t know they have it because they have no symptoms, or symptoms are mild and go unnoticed. However, even with no symptoms, herpes can still be spread to sex partners.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • small, red bumps, blisters or open sores (ulcers) in the genital, anal and nearby areas
  • pain or itching around the genital area, buttocks and inner thighs
  • painful urination
  • pain and tenderness in the genital area
  • flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle aches and fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes in the groin

Treatment:

There is no cure for herpes but antiviral drugs can prevent or shorten outbreaks while an infected person takes the medication.

6) Genital warts (HPV infection)

Genital warts, one of the most common types of STDs, are caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts affect both women and men, but women are more vulnerable to complications. Warts can be treated, but they can come back unless the underlying infection is also treated.

Good News: Now there is a vaccine called Gardasil that provides nearly 100% protection from four types of HPV infection. If all three doses of the vaccine are taken at the correct intervals and if they are given before a person contracts HPV, the vaccine provides almost 100% protection from HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls aged 11 or 12 so that they are protected before they are ever exposed to the virus by becoming sexually active. If not given while your child is a preteen, the next best option is during the early teen years (13-15).

Glenn Kaplan, MD, FAAP, one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians, has written a very informative blog about HPV infection and the HPV vaccine (“Why We Recommend The HPV Vaccine), which you can read here.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • small, flesh-colored or gray soft growths on the genitals
  • several warts close together that take on a cauliflower shape
  • pain, itching and/or burning in the genital area
  • bleeding during intercourse
  • vaginal discharge

Treatment:

  • topical wart treatments
  • minor surgery to remove them
  • electrocautery (burning warts with electric currents)
  • cryosurgery (freezing them)
  • laser treatments
  • excision (cutting them off)
  • injections of the drug interferon
  • If you’re a woman with genital warts, you may need to have Pap tests every 3-6 months after your initial treatment because you may be at higher risk of cervical cancer.

7) Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Most people don’t think of hepatitis as a sexually transmitted infection, but one of the more common ways hepatitis B is spread is through intimate sexual contact.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain or discomfort, on your right side beneath your lower ribs (liver area)
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • dark urine
  • muscle or joint pain
  • itching
  • headaches

Treatment:

  • bed rest
  • abstaining from alcohol
  • taking medications to help relieve symptoms
  • liver transplant in the case of liver failure

8) Syphilis

Divided into three stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), syphilis is a bacterial infection that affects the genitals, skin and mucous membranes. It may also affect other parts of the body, including the brain, eyes and heart. A person can develop syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex, and it can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn baby. Without treatment, syphilis can spread to the brain and nervous system (neurosyphilis) or to the eye (ocular syphilis).

Signs and symptoms include:

  • a small, painless sore (chancre) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted, usually the genitals, rectum, tongue or lips
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • rash marked by red or reddish-brown, penny-sized sores over any area of your body
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • soreness and aching
  • neurological problems
  • cardiovascular problems

Treatment:

Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics but treatment might not undo any damage that the infection has already done.

Helpful articles we recommend:

Need to talk to someone about an STD? Come see us.

If you think you might have an STD, please come in and talk with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We’ll perform tests and determine if in fact, you do have an infection. If so, we’ll provide treatment and also help you work through your options. We’re here for you with support, advice and a listening ear…whatever you need. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball