The ABCs of STIs

You need to Know about STIs

Let’s face it, STIs are a fact of life. In fact, there are almost 20 million cases in the U.S. each year. Here’s a quick guide to understanding more about the most common STIs, what the symptoms looks like, and how they are either treated or managed.

Many STIs have few or no symptoms and can go unnoticed and untreated for months and even years.  Untreated STIs can lead to a range of problems – from infertility to liver damage and nervous system damage.

Learn more about each STI — what is it, how it’s spread, signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is it?

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI.

Can I Get It?

Chlamydia affects both men and women. Sexually active teenage girls are especially vulnerable.

How Is It Spread?

Chlamydia is spread through unprotected vaginal or anal sex and more rarely through oral sex. It can also be passed from mom to baby during childbirth.

Dow Do I know if I have it?

You’ll need a urine test or a culture swab.

Symptoms Include

Most people who are infected with chlamydia don’t know it because they have no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they start about one week after infection. Symptoms may appear on the morning, especially for men. 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina or rectum
  • Low-grade fever
  • Pain during sex
  • Pan/burning while peeing
  • Increase urge to pee
  • Swollen vagina/anus
  • Itchy, red eyes with discharge
  • Sore throat
  • Pain or burning while peeing
  • Pus/watery/milky discharge from the penis or anus
  • Swollen or tender testicles
  • Swollen anus
  • Sore throat


Chlamydia is easy to cure, but because most people have no symptoms, it often goes untreated – sometimes for a long time.

  • The infection is treated with antibiotics – either one done or over seven days
  • Both partners must be treated
  • If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after treatment, you’ll need more medication.


Without treatment, chlamydia can cause serious health problems:

  • Women may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). See PID/Candida” below.
  • Men could develop epididymitis – an inflammation of the epididymides (ducts used for storing and carrying sperm from the testes). This condition causes pain, swelling, and fever. Untreated, it can lead to sterility and other complications.
  • Chlamydia can trigger reactive arthritis, a condition that causes pain and inflammation of the joints, eyes, and cervix or urethra.

What is it?

Gonorrhea (a.k.a. “the clap” or “the drip”) is a bacterial infection that affects the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is very common, especially among teens and young adults (ages 15-24).

Can I Get It?

Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea. Gonorrhea affects both men and women. 

How is it spread?

Gonorrhea can be spread through oral, vaginal, and anal sexual contact.

How do I know if I have it?

The only way to know if you have gonorrhea is to get a medical exam. A urine test is usually enough, but a culture swab may be necessary if the infection is in your throat, rectum, urethra, or cervix.

Symptoms Include

Some people – including most women – have no symptoms. When a woman does have symptoms, they are often so mild that she mistakes them fora. bladder infection. 

Gonorrhea can cause serious complications for women, even if there are no symptoms.

People who do experience symptoms may have any of the these:

  • Painful or burning sensation when peeing
  • Increase vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • A burning sensation when peeing
  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
  • Painful or swollen testicles (less common)

Rectal infections may or may not cause these symptoms:

  • Discharge
  • Anal itching
  • Pain and bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements


Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics – often two kinds taken together. However treatment will not repair any damage the infection has caused (e.g. scarring).

It is becoming harder to treat gonorrhea because some strains are becoming drug-resistant. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after treatment, get medical help. 

*Wait seven days after treatment is done before you have sex again.


Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious complications:

  • Women are likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  See PID/Candida below for more information.
  • Men could develop epididymitis – an inflammation of the epididymides (ducts used for storing and carrying sperm from the testes). This condition causes pain, swelling, and fever. Untreated, it can lead to sterility and other complications.
  • Rarely, gonorrhea can lead to a life-threatening blood infection and cause joint pain, tendon pain, and skin problems.

What is it?

Syphilis is cause be a bacterial infection.

Can I Get It?

Any sexually active person can get syphilis through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

FACT: In the U.S., men who have sex with men and racial/ethnic minorities are more affected by syphilis than other groups.

How is it spread?

Syphilis is spread by direct contacts with a syphilitic sore (called a chancre). Sores can be found on the penis, vagina  or anus, in the rectum or on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her baby.

How do I know if I have it?

Most of the time, a blood test can be used to test of syphilis. The fluid from a chancre may also be tested.

Symptoms and Complications

Syphilis can be called “the great imitator” because its symptoms look like those of other diseases. You could have very mild symptoms or non at all.


During the first stage of syphilis, one or more chancres may about 10 to 90 days after infection at the spot where syphilis entered the body. Chancres are firm, round, and painless, and can easily go unnoticed. The first ones last three to six weeks and heal on their own. Without treatment, the infection will move to the second stage.

– Second Stage:

During the second stage, symptoms include a skin rash and sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus. the rash may show up as the first chancre is healing or several weeks later. The rash looks like rough red or reddish brown spots on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. It doesn’t itch and may go unnoticed. 

Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headache, weight loss, muscle ache, and fatigue. 

– Latent Stages:

Latent syphilis begins when all the symptoms disappear. Syphilis can live in the body for years without any signs or symptoms. 

– Late Stage:

Late stage syphilis is very serious. It occurs 10 to 30 years after infection. Symptoms include difficulty coordinating muscles movements, paralysis (inability to move certain muscles), numbness, blindness and dementia (mental disorder). The disease causes organ damage and death.


Syphilis can be cured with the right medication. however treatment will not undo any damage the infection has already caused. 

A single injection of penicillin (an antibiotic) is usually enough to cure syphilis. Three injections are needed for late stage syphilis.

What is it?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndomes (AIDS). The human body CANNOT get rid of HIV. Once you have HIV, you have it for life.

Can I Get It?

Anyone who is sexually active can get HIV. People are at higher risk of they have an STI, have unsafe sex, or share needles or other drug injection items.

How is it spread?

HIV is spread by contact with the body fliods on an infected person. In the U.S., HIV is spread mainly by having sex with or sharing drug injection equipment with an HIV-infected person. HIV can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeed.

How do I know if I have it?

You’ll need an HIV test to find out if you are infected. Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested at least once. People are higher risk should get tested more often. 

For information about testing, visit

Symptoms Include

The symptoms of HIV vary depending on the person and the stage of the disease. Many people do not have any symptoms all all for 10 years or more.

1) Acute infection

Some people have flu-like symptoms (often described as “the worst flu ever”) two or four weeks after exposure. This is called acute retroviral syndrome (ARS) or primary HIV infection. ARS is the body’s response to the infection. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
2) Clinical Latency (Inactivity or Dormancy)

During this phase, HIV is still active but does not reproduce as much or as fast. People often don’t feel sick during the latency phase. With medication, they may life for several decades.


At this stage, the immune system is badly damaged. The person becomes vulnerat to other infections and cancers. Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years. 

The follow are symptoms of AIDS. Many are related to other infections the body cannot fight off:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
  • Extreme and unexplained tiredness
  • Prolonged swelling of lymph glands
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than a week
  • Sores in the mouth, anus, or genitals
  • Pneumonia
  • Red, brown, pink, or purple blotches under the skin or in the mouth, nose, and eyelids
  • Memory loss and depression


Treatment can help people at all stages of HUV disease by slowing it or stopping it from getting worse. There is no cure.

The drugs commonly used to treat HIV are called antiretroviral therapy (ART). All people with HIV can take ART, no matter how long they’ve had the virus or how healthy they are.

ART can keep the amount of virus in the body (“viral load”) very low. HIV_infected people who take ART correctly can stay healthy for decades and are less likely to pass on HIV to their partners.


Untreated HIV is almost always fatal. It takes over the immune system and causes AIDS. 

By weakening your immune system, HIV can leave you vulnerable to cancers and infections. These infections are called “opportunistic” because they attack you when your immune system is weak.

In addition, HIV is an inflammatory disease that affects many parts of the body, not just the immune system. It can affect the brain, kidneys, liver, and heart.

What is it?

Herpes is an infectionwith one of the herpes simplex viruses (HSV1 or HSV2). Herpes is a lifelong infection. It is not curable, but it can be managed. When it infects the genital area, it is called “genital herpes”.

HSV1 usually infects the mouth area, causing “cold sores” or “fever blisters.” HSV2 usually infects the genital area. however, both types can infect any part of the body.

Can I Get It?

Anyone who is sexually active can get genital herpes. Genital herpes affects both women and men, though it’s almost twice as common in women.

How is it spread?

Genital herpes is spread through close contact and unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. When the virus is shedding, it can be passed to a sexual partner even if the infected person has no sores. It can also be passed from mother to baby during childbirth.

How do I know if I have it?

During an outbreak, genital herpes is easy to diagnose by looking at a sore. Otherwise, a culture swab taken from the sore is analyzed. When there is no outbreak, genital herpes is hard to diagnose. Blood tests may help, but the results are not always clear.

Symptoms Include

After the initial infection, the virus becomes latent (inactive) and hides in the nervous system. Many people are infected without knowing it and never have symptoms. Other people have several outbreaks each year.

The First Outbreak

The first outbreak (if there is one) happens two to 10 days after infection. it is usually more severe than following outbreaks:

  • First, the area where the virus entered the body becomes painful or itchy.
  • Then small pimple-like blisters appear.
  • The blisters erupt, becoming small open sores that ooze and eventually scab over. The fluid from the sores can spread the infection to other parts of the body.

Flu-like symptoms are common:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches

Symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection are also common:

  • Pain when peeing
  • Frequent urge to pee
  • Inability to pee
Regular Outbreaks

Another outbreak may occur within weeks or months of the first, or not at all. Typically, these outbreaks are milder and shorter than the first. With time, outbreaks may happen less often or not at all.

The first sign of an outbreak is often tingling near the site of infection (e.g. in one bum cheek or thigh). Within a few hours or a day, blisters appear and follow the sore-to-scab cycle. 


There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medication can help. The medication is either taken at the first sign (tingling) to manage outbreaks or daily to prevent them. 

Many things can trigger an outbreak:

  • Stress
  • Friction or irritation (e.g., from sex)
  • Diet (e.g., lots of sugar)
  • Hormonal changes (e.g., before your period)
  • Weakened immunse system (e.g., during a cold)

There are simple things you can do to avoid an outbreak – from when you feel the first tingling until the sores have healed.


  • With or without symptoms, genital herpes can cause stress, worry, and anxiety for people who know they’re infected.
  • People who have weakened immune systems can have unusually long or sever outbreaks. 
  • If the infection spreads to the eyes, it can cause disease or blindness.
  • Having an open sore increases the risk of getting another STI.
  • Rare complications include bladder problems and meningitis
  • Herpes can cause inflammation of the anus.


What is it?

Trichomoniasis is an infection with a single-cell parasite. “Trich” is the most common STI found in young, sexually active women.

Can I Get It?

You can get trichomoniasis by having vaginal sex with someone who has it. Infection is more common in women than in men. Older women are more likely than younger women to have been infected.

How is it spread?

The parasite is passed from an infected person during vaginal sex (i.e., penis-vagina or vulva-vulva). It does not commonly infect other parts of the body (e.g., hands, anus, mouth). 

How do I know if I have it?

You’ll need to have a sample of your discharge tested for the parasite that causes trichomoniasis. The infection is harder to diagnose in men than in women.

Symptoms Include

many people who have trichomoniasis don’t know it. People who are infected often have no symptoms. Women are more likely than men me to get symptoms. Symptoms usually start five to 28 days after infection.

  • Discomfort when peeing or having sex
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or strong odor
  • Irritation or itching around genitals
  • An irritation or burning sensation inside the penis
  • A discharge from the penis


Trichomoniasis can be treated with one dose of antibiotics.


Complications are rare, although some women may develop other health problems. Long-term infection may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and changes in the tissue on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer.

What is it?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD in the U.S. – nearly all sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives. There are over 150 types of HPV; at least 40 can cause either genital warts or cervical cancer. HPV can also infect in the mouth and throat.

Can I Get It?

Sexually active men and women can get HPV. Most people who become infected don’t know they have it.

How is it spread?

HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal, anal and, less often, oral sex. HPV can be passed from person to person even when there are no symptoms. 

How do I know if I have it?

Genital warts are one sign of HPV, but some HPV infections – the ones that can cause ancer – show no signs. Ther are found with two cervical screening tests:

  • A Pap test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Without treatment, these cell changes could leave to cervical cancer.
  • An HPV test looks for the specific types of HPV likely to cause cervical cancer.
  • Women over 21 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women over 30 years old may be given an HPV test at the same time as the Pap test. If both tests are negative, testing is needed only every five years.
  • The HPV test is not available for men.

Symptoms Include

Most HPV infections are harmless, and most infected people never develop symptoms or health problems. Often, the body fights off HPV before it can cause genital warts and cancer. 

  • Genital warts look like one or many small bumps in the genital area. They may be small or large, raised or flat, or cauliflower-shaped, and they may burn or itch. 
  • Cervical cancer does not show symptoms until the desease is advanced and hard to treat. Regular screening (Pap test) can spot problems early, before they lead to cancer.


The best way to prevent HPV is with vaccination. There are three available HPV vaccines. They work best when boys and girls receive all three doses at age 11 or 12. Young women can get vaccinated until age 26, and young men until age 21. 

Regular cervical screening (Pap and HPV tests) is the main way women over 26 can precent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV, so sexually active women of all ages should get regular cervical screening.


There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems that HPV can cause:

  • Genital warts can be treated by you or your physician. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.
  • Cervical pre-cancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can find and stop problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment. 
  • Other HPV-related cancers are easier. to treat when found early.


Untreated HPV can lead to different types of cancer: cervical, anal, penile, head and neck, and vulvar and vaginal cancer. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

What is it?

The vagina normally has a balance of mostly “good” bacteria and fewer “harmful” bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) develops when there is an increase in harmful bacteria and a decrease in good bacteria.

Can  I Get It?

BV is a common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. Any woman can get BV.

How Is it spread?

Not much is known about how women get BV. However, certain things can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, raising your risk of BV:

  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Douching
  • Using and intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
  • Not using a condom

How Do I Know I Have It?

You need to have a sample of your vaginal fluid tested. 


Women with BV may have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after sex. The discharge can be milky or gray and foamy or watery.

Other symptoms may include burning when peeing or itching and irritation around the genital area. These symptoms may be caused by another type of infection, so it is important to see a doctor. Some women with BV have no symptoms at all. 


BV is treated with antibiotics. Generally, male sex partners don’t need to be treated, but BV can be spread to female partners. If you have a female sex partner, talk to her about getting treatment.

What is it?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Can I Get It?

Anyone who is sexually active can get hepatitis B, as can anyone who injects drugs with shared equipment. Hepatitis B affects both men and women.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact, using contaminated syringes or needles (acupuncture, tattoos, or drug injection), sharing personal hygiene items (i.e., razors), direct contact with open sores, or from mother to baby during delivery.

How do I know if I have it?

You need one of more blood tests. These tests can tell if you:

  • Have an acute or chronic infection
  • Have recovered from infection
  • Are immune to hepatitis B
  • could benefit from a vaccine

Symptoms & Complications

Many people with chronic hepatitis B do not know they are infected because they do not feel or look sick. They are still at risk for serious health problems, and they can still spread the virus to other people.

Hepatitis B has two types of illness:

  1. Acute: a mild illness lasting a few weeks
  2. Chronic: a serious, lifelong illness
Acute Hepatitis B

Althrough most adults get symptoms from acute hepatitis B, many children under age 5 do not. Symptoms can start at any time between six weeks and six months after infection, but three months is typical.Symptoms usually last only a few weeks, but some people are sick for as long as six months. 

Symptoms of Acute hepatitis:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark Urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)
Chronic Hepatitis B

Chronic hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term liver problems or even death. 

The younger the person is when infected, the more likely it is that acute hepatitis B will become chronic. About 90% of infants who are infected become chronically ill, compared with about 4% of adults.


The best prevention for hepatitis B is vaccination. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective. It is usually given as three or four shots over a six-month period.

Children and Teens
  • All children should get their first does for the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. They should have received the complete series by 18 months of age.
  • All children and teens younger than age 19 who have not yet gotten the vaccine should be vaccinated.
  • Any adult who is at risk for hepatitis B or who wants to be vaccinated should talk to a health professional.


Acute Hepatitis B:  There is no medication available to treat acute hepatitis B. During this short-term infection, people need rest, adequate nutrition and fluids. Some people may need to be hospitalized. 

Chronic Hepatitis B: There is no one treatment for chronic hepatitis B. Some medication is available, but treatment focuses mainly on managing symptoms. People with chronic hepatitis B should be monitored regularly. They should avoid substances that can be monitored regularly. They should avoid substances that can cause more liver damage, such as alcohol and some medications.