It's not necessary to have sexual intercourse to get a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). The human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts can be transmitted by close skin-to-skin contact. Some types of HPVs cause cervical or anal cancer, and vaccines are available to protect against the most dangerous types. Other HPV types cause genital warts, which can be raised, flat, or cauliflower-shaped. HPV infection can occur in people who have no symptoms or visible warts.
- Genital warts can be big or small, flat or raised. They generally appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital region, and may be shaped like a cauliflower.
- A vaccine to prevent HPV is given in three shots. The second shot is given a month or two after the first shot. The third shot comes six months after the first shot.
- The Centers for Disease Control recommends boys and girls be vaccinated at ages 11 or 12.
- If they did not get the HPV vaccine as children, women can get the HPV vaccine through age 26. Men can get it through age 21. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for men through age 26 for men who have sex with men or men with compromised immune systems, including HIV.
Pubic lice are colloquially known as "crabs." This name refers to the shape of these parasites, which is different from that of body lice. Pubic lice live in pubic hair and are spread among people during close contact. Pubic lice can be treated with over-the-counter lice-killing medications.
Pubic Lice (Crabs) Symptoms
- Severe itching
- Visible crawling lice or eggs attached to pubic hair
Scabies is another disease caused by lice infestation. It is not necessarily an STD, since it can affect any area of the skin. However, it is often spread during sexual contact.
- Extreme itching that is worse at night.
- The skin appears to have a pimple-like rash, as shown in this photo.
- Both the itching and rash may be across the body or limited to the wrist, elbow, armpit, webbing between fingers, nipple, penis, waist, belt-line or buttocks.
- Tiny blisters (vesicles) and scales may appear.
- Tiny burrows left by the tunneling of female scabies mites may be visible on the skin.
- They appear as tiny raised and crooked grayish-white or skin-colored lines.
Prescription creams can cure a scabies infestation.
Gonorrhea is an easily transmissible STD that affects both men and women. It can cause infertility in men and women when untreated. There may be no early symptoms of the infection.
- Burning during urination
- Vaginal or urethral discharge
- Pelvic pain in women
- Men may experience swelling of the testes and discharge from the penis
In some cases, the symptoms are mild and the condition is mistaken for a urinary tract infection or yeast infection.
Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, but many people don't notice the early symptoms. It can lead to nerve damage, blindness, paralysis, and even death overtime if not treated.
Chlamydia is a very common infection transmitted by sexual contact. It can cause infertility if not treated. The symptoms may not be noticed, or they may be vague and nonspecific. Some people have no symptoms at all.
- Burning or itching of the genitals
- Painful urination
Chlamydia infections can also develop in the rectum and throat.
Cold sores or "fever blisters" on the lips are a sign of herpes virus infection, usually caused by the type of herpes virus known as human herpes virus 1, or HHV-1. HHV-1 is usually not considered to be an STD; however, it can be spread through kissing or household contact. It can also spread to the genitals. There is no cure for herpes infection, but medications can reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks.
Herpes Simplex 1 (Oral Herpes) Symptoms
- Itching of the lips or skin around the mouth
- Burning near the lips or mouth area
- Tingling near the lips or mouth area
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Painful swallowing
- A rash may form on your gums, lips, mouth or throat
Symptoms usually appear 1-3 weeks after first infection. When symptoms return, they are typically milder.
In contrast to HHV-1, most genital herpes infections are caused by a different virus known as HHV-2. It is spread through direct contact and is considered to be an STD. More than 87 percent of those infected with genital herpes are unaware of their infection due to very mild or nonexistent symptoms.
Herpes Simplex 2 (Genital Herpes) Symptoms
- Painful, fluid-filled blisters and crusted sores on the genital area, buttocks, thighs, or anus.
- Mild tingling or shooting pain in the legs, hips, or buttocks may occur hours to days before a genital herpes outbreak.
- After the first infection, less severe outbreaks are common in the first year. Outbreaks tend to decrease over time, though the infection may stay in the body indefinitely.
The infection can spread to the lips through oral contact. As with HHV-1, medications can reduce the severity of the condition, but there is no cure.
Hepatitis B is a virus that spreads through contact with body fluids and blood, so it can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Hepatitis B infection is also possible through sharing of needles, razors, and toothbrushes. Babies can become infected at birth from an infected mother. It's possible to go for years without symptoms of the infection.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Over time, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer can develop
Although there is no cure, there is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection.
The HIV virus (AIDS virus) weakens the body's immune system. It is spread through sexual contact, needle sharing, or from an infected mother to baby. There may be no symptoms for years, but a blood test can tell if you have been infected. With appropriate treatment, many serious illnesses can be prevented.
- Flu-like symptoms 1 to 2 months after first infection, including like swollen lymph nodes, fever, and headaches
- Night sweats
- Muscle Aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
There are accurate tests to identify whether or not you have been infected with the HIV virus. These can be done in the clinic or at home with the FDA-approved Home Access test kit. The test can be performed anonymously, with only a number to identify you. However, sometimes people may not test positive in the initial 6 months after infection. This time period is referred to as the "window period" in which antibodies may not have developed enough for a positive test. You can still transmit the virus to others during this time.
While there is no cure for HIV, there are medications that can suppress the amount of virus multiplying inside the body. People take a combination of antiviral drugs in hopes of preventing the infection from advancing to AIDS. Additional treatments can help prevent or fight off serious infections, if the immune system has weakened.
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection (caused by Trichomonas vaginalis) that is spread during sexual contact. It affects both men and women and can be cured with medications. Most affected men have no specific symptoms.
- Men: minor discharge or burning with urination
- Women: yellowish-green vaginal discharge with a prominent odor, itching of the vaginal area, or painful sex or urination
Symptoms can develop anywhere from 5 to 28 days after contracting the infection.
Chancroid is an STD that is rarely seen in the U.S. It is more common in Africa and Asia. It causes painful lumps in the genital area that can progress to open sores. Antibiotics can cure the infection; chancroid is caused by bacterial infection with Haemophilus ducreyi.
- One or more sores or raised bumps on the genitals. A narrow, red border surrounds the sores. The sores become filled with pus and eventually rupture into a painful open sore.
- About half the time when untreated, the chancroid bacterial infection spreads to the groin's lymph glands, causing the groin to enlarge and become hard and painful.
Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is a type of chlamydial infection, but it is caused by a different type of chlamydia (Chlamydia trachomatis) than the usual chlamydial STD. Like other chlamydial infections, it can be cured by antibiotic treatment.
Early Lymphogranuloma venereum Symptoms (3-12 Days After Exposure)
- Soft red, painless sores on or near the genitals or anus
- Similar sores in the throat or mouth following oral sex
Later Lymphogranuloma venereum Symptoms (2-6 Weeks After Exposure)
- Open sores in the genitals
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- Anal sores and rectal discharge or bleeding if the infection was acquired through anal sex
- Painful urination
- Rectal bleeding
- Pain in lower back/abdomen
- Pus-filled or bloody diarrhea
- Fever, chills, joint pain, decreased appetite and fatigue
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is not a specific STD. Rather, it is a complication that can develop following multiple different STDs, particularly gonorrhea and chlamydia. In PID, bacteria spread to the uterus and female reproductive tract. Infertility may result if the condition is not treated right away.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Symptoms
- Pelvic or low abdominal pain
- Painful urination
- Painful intercourse
- Light bleeding
It's estimated that half of sexually active young adults acquire an STD by age 25. In fact, STDs are the most common type of infection in America. While STDs are more common in teens and young adults, anyone who is sexually active is at risk. The risk is raised by having multiple sex partners. The incidence of some STDs, including LGV and syphilis, is rising in men who have sex with men.
Many STDs can spread through any type of sexual activity. This includes skin-to-skin contact and oral sex. This means that people who have not yet had sexual intercourse can still get STDs.
Abstinence from any sexual contact is the only absolute way to prevent getting an STD. Being in a long-term, monogamous relationship also is a good way to avoid STDs. There are also steps you can take to decrease the chance of getting an STD if you are sexually active, including:
- Asking partners if they have ever had an STD
- Using condoms
- Avoiding sexual activity with a partner who has signs of an STD
- Asking partners to be tested before having sex
- Being aware of symptoms and signs of STDs
Condoms can prevent the spread of some STDs, but they aren't 100% effective. They are less effective at protecting against herpes, syphilis, and genital warts, since these STDs can be transmitted by contact with skin lesions that are not covered by a condom. Condoms also do not protect against crabs and scabies infestations.
It may be difficult, but it is important to tell your partner as soon as possible if you believe you may have an STD. Even if you are being treated, you may still be able to spread the infection. For some STDs, it's recommended that both partners be treated at the same time. It can be difficult to share this information, so some people find that preparing a script in advance can be helpful. Here are some facts that can help the conversation go more smoothly:
- Discovering an STD is not evidence of cheating. It may very well have come from one of yours or your partner's past relationships.
- An estimated one in two sexually active people will contract an STD by the time they reach age 25. Most of these don't know they have an STD. Many STDs show few or no symptoms when contracted and may be discovered much later.
It's normal to be nervous about this topic. But by being bold and taking action, you can actively promote better health for you and your partner.
STDs can cause premature labor in pregnant women, and many STDs can be passed to the baby either during pregnancy or childbirth. So all pregnant women should be checked for STDs. STDs can cause numerous problems in babies, like low birth weight, stillbirth, nerve problems, blindness, serious infections, and liver problems. Treatment during pregnancy can reduce the risks of these complications and can cure many types of infections.
In most cases, new exposures to STDs that you have had in the past can cause you to get the infection again. Most treatments don't protect you from developing the STD at a future time. If your partner has not been treated, you may pass the infection back and forth. Without the right precautions, you could acquire a second STD or a recurrence of the same infection. In addition, genital herpes virus infections can be recurrent after a single exposure.
Some experts prefer to term STD's as STIs (sexually transmitted infections). STIs include all infections that can be transmitted sexually. For example, scabies and most recently, Zika virus infections are better classified as STIs.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Science Source, Dr P. Marazzi, Dr. Harout Tanielian, Biophoto Associates / Photo Researchers Inc.
- London Scientific Films
- Dr. P. Marazzi / Photo Researchers, Inc.
- Juergen Berger / Photo Researchers, Interactive Medical Media LLC , Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology
- Science Source/Photo Researchers, Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology
- BSIP/Photo Researchers Inc
- Interactive Medical Media LLC
- Interactive Medical Media LLC, Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, Dr. Harold Fisher/Visuals Unlimited
- Eye of Science/Photo Researchers Inc
- Dr. M.A. Ansary / Photo Researchers, Inc., Science Source, Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology
- Bildagentur RM/Tips Italia
- Bruce Forester/Photographer's Choice
- IMA / Photo Researchers Inc
- Dr. M.A. Ansary / Photo Researchers, Inc., David M. Phillips / Photo Researchers, Inc, Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatolog
- Dr. M.A. Ansary / Photo Researchers, Inc.
- Judith Glick / Phototake
- Clarissa Leahy/Photographer's Choice
- Christoph Martin/Lifesize
- George Diebold/Photographer's Choice
- Michael Winokur/Workbook Stock
- John Lamb/Stone
- UHB Trust/Stone
- Alan Powdrill/Stone
- Aids.gov: "Symptoms of HIV"
- CDC: "Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)", "Symptoms and Health Consequences of HPV", "HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen", "Scabies Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)", "Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed)"
- Illinois Department of Public Health: "Facts About Sexually Transmitted Diseases"
- KidsHealth.org: "Telling Your Partner You Have an STD"
- Medscape: "Chlamydial Genitourinary Infections"
- Minnesota Department of Health: "Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV)"
- New York State Department of Health: "Chancroid (soft chancre)"