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Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What are sexual transmitted diseases (STDs)?

STDs are infections that are passed from person to person through sexual contact, including oral sex.

  • STDs may be caused by different types of germs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis

  • Some STDs can be spread through kissing or close body contact, not just intercourse

  • Some STDs can cause very serious health problems throughout your whole body

  • Using condoms can help prevent STDs

What causes STDs?

STDs are caused by tiny viruses, bacteria, and parasites, depending on the disease. People who have sex with an infected partner can get an STD. The sex can be vaginal, oral, or anal. However, some STDs also can be spread in other ways, including:

  • Kissing or close body contact

  • From mother to child before or during birth

  • Breastfeeding

What are the symptoms of STDs?

Some STDs do not cause symptoms. If you do have symptoms of an STD, you may have:

  • Sores on your genitals or mouth

  • Discharge from the sores or your genitals

  • Pain or itching

  • Pain when urinating (peeing)

If you don't get treated quickly, some STDs can cause more serious problems:

  • Heart and brain infections

  • Cancer

  • Infertility (when you can't get pregnant)

How can doctors tell if I have an STD?

Doctors may do tests on your blood, urine, or on a sample from your penis, vagina, throat, or rectum.

If you have one STD, doctors also do tests for other STDs—people who have one STD have a relatively high chance of having another one.

How can I prevent STDs?

Practice safe sex

  • Use condoms correctly every time you have sex

  • Avoid having lots of sex partners

  • Avoid having sex with people who do sex work

  • Male circumcision (surgery to remove the foreskin from the penis) helps reduce the spread of HIV from women to men

Get vaccines (shots)

There are vaccines to prevent some STDs:

  • HPV vaccine for girls and boys ages 11 and 12

  • Hepatitis B vaccine given to newborns

  • Hepatitis A vaccine given to people ages 1 and older

How do doctors treat STDs?

Most STDs can be treated with medicines. Some viral STDs can't be cured, so you have them for life.

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