How Common are STDs?

The United States has an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Over 70 million Americans currently have an STD. Nineteen million new cases occur each year. Half of these are in people under the age of 25.

How do you get STDs?

You can get STDs during sexual activity. This includes vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex. A few—HPV and herpes—can even be spread by contact with infected skin. Others, such as HIV and hepatitis, can be spread through needle-sharing. You can get STDs from someone who has no symptoms.

What are the Symptoms?

STDs in men and women often do not present any symptoms. Even without symptoms, a person can still pass on the infection. Some STDs cause symptoms such as, abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina, burning sensation when urinating, and abdominal pain. Skin changes can also occur; these include rashes, ulcers, and warts.

What are the Complications?

In women, complications from infection by STDs include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), tubal pregnancy, infertility and cervical cancer. In pregnant women, STDs can lead to miscarriage, stillbirths, preterm delivery, and birth defects. In men, HPV infection can cause penile cancer. Some STDs, such as HIV, can be life threatening.

Can they be Treated?

Most bacterial STDs can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Treatment does not guarantee that complications have not already occurred. A few viral STDs can be treated and occasionally cured. However, other viral STDs can be treated for symptoms, but not cured. These include HIV and herpes. An HPV vaccine has recently become available and is recommended for young women. However, this vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that cause cancer and warts. The duration of the vaccine’s protection is also unknown./p>

Can they be Prevented?

Yes, STDs can be prevented. Avoid all sexual activity if you are single or be faithful to one uninfected partner for life. This is the only way to avoid the risk of an infection.

There are also a number of ways to reduce the risk of infection. The fewer people you have sex with, the lower your risk of getting STDs. Correct and consistent condom use can also reduce (but not eliminate) your risk of getting most STDs.

Consistent condom use (100%) during vaginal sex reduces your risk for:

  • HIV by 85% [18-22]
  • Gonorrhea by about 50% [18,25-28]
  • Chlamydia by about 50% [18,25-28]
  • Herpes by about 50% [18,27-28]
  • Syphilis by about 50% [16,18,25-27]
  • HPV by 50% or less [18,22-24]

Few studies have been done to see whether condoms reduce the risk of STDs, including HIV, during oral sex or anal sex. Waiting to have sex until you are in a faithful, lifelong relationship (such as marriage) is the only certain way to avoid being infected sexually.

*Information from the Institute for Medical Health