Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)

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Sexually Transmitted Infection

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is spread by sexual contact. There are many STIs. Having an STI also increases the risk of getting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if you are exposed to it.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections spread by sexual contact. STIs are very common and quickly spread. Some STIs can be treated and cured, but others cannot be cured. By knowing the facts, you can take steps to protect your health.

From screening tests and vaccines to STI prevention and wellness checkups, get the facts on how to stay healthy.

Jordana Reina Ferenandez, MD, FACOG

Most Common STIs

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STI in the United States. Chlamydia is caused by bacteria, which can be passed from person to person during vaginal sex, oral sex, or anal sex. Infections can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra, and rectum. In women, the most common place for infection is the cervix (the opening of the uterus).

What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
Chlamydia usually does not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may show up between a few days and several weeks after infection. They may be very mild and can be mistaken for a urinary tract or vaginal infection. The most common symptoms in women include

  • yellow discharge from the vagina or urethra
  • painful or frequent urination
  • vaginal bleeding between periods
  • rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain

How is chlamydia treated?
Chlamydia is treated with an antibiotic. Your sex partners also need to be tested and treated. This includes anyone you have had sex with in the past 60 days or your last sex partner. Be sure to take all of your medicine as directed.

Chlamydia can be passed to sex partners even during treatment. You should avoid sexual contact until you have finished treatment, and your sex partners should as well. You also should be retested for chlamydia 3 months after treatment.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis Patient Education

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis PE Spanish

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported STI in the United States. Gonorrhea and chlamydia often occur together. Gonorrhea also is caused by bacteria that can be passed to a partner during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.


What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea often causes no symptoms or only very mild symptoms. Women with gonorrhea may think they have a minor urinary tract or vaginal infection. Symptoms include

  • yellow vaginal discharge
  • painful or frequent urination
  • vaginal bleeding between periods
  • rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain

How is gonorrhea treated?
Gonorrhea is treated with two kinds of antibiotics. The recommended treatment is an injection of one antibiotic followed by a single pill of another antibiotic. If the injection is not available, you can take two types of antibiotic drugs. This treatment also is effective against chlamydia. Your sex partners also need to be tested for gonorrhea and treated.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis Patient Education

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis PE Spanish

At least 50 million people in the United States—about 1 in 6 adults—are infected with the virus that causes genital herpes. Herpes infection can cause painful sores, but sometimes there are no sores. It is possible to have herpes and not know it.

When first infected, a person with herpes may have flu-like symptoms. Sores may appear as small, fluid-filled blisters on the genitals, buttocks, or other areas. The sores often are grouped in clusters, and the site where the sores appear may be swollen and tender. When a person has symptoms, they appear about 2 to 10 days after the virus enters the body.

What happens to the herpes virus in the body?

After a person is first infected, the virus travels to nerve cells near the spine. When there is a trigger, the virus can become active again. Triggers can include illness, stress, and hormonal changes.

When the virus is active again, it travels along the nerves back to where it first entered the body and causes a new outbreak of sores and blisters. This is called a recurrence. The virus can be passed to others during a recurrence.

What is the treatment for genital herpes?

There is no cure for herpes, but the infection can be managed. Antiviral medications taken during outbreaks can make them shorter and less severe. When taken daily, antiviral medications can reduce the number of outbreaks. This is called suppressive therapy. In some cases, suppressive therapy can prevent outbreaks for a long time. This therapy also reduces the risk of giving herpes to someone else.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are infections that affect the liver. These infections are caused by viruses that can spread quickly. These infections also can lead to severe and long-term illnesses. There is no cure for hepatitis B infection, but it can be managed. A vaccine also is available to prevent hepatitis B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but new treatments have the potential to cure hepatitis C infection in most people and prevent long-term complications.

What is acute hepatitis?
Acute infection is a short-term illness that happens in the first six months after a person is infected. Acute infection can cause mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. When symptoms develop, they may include

  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • jaundice
  • stomach pain
  • pain in the muscles and joints

What is chronic hepatitis?
Chronic infection can develop if the virus stays in the body. Chronic illness can cause severe and long-term liver disease, such as cirrhosis. In this condition, cells of the liver die and are replaced by scar tissue. Over time, the liver stops working. In some cases, chronic hepatitis can lead to liver cancer.

Protecting Yourself Against Hepatitus B and C PE English

Protecting Yourself Against Hepatitus B and C PE Spanish

HIV is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is passed from person to person through contact with infected body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluid, or blood.

Once HIV is in your body, it attacks the immune system. As the immune system weakens, it is less able to resist disease and infections. AIDS is diagnosed when a person with HIV develops conditions that the immune system normally would fight off, such as pneumonia, certain types of cancer, and infections.

What are the symptoms of HIV infection?

Some people may have flu-like symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks of getting the virus. But other people may not feel sick until the infection is more serious. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

What should I know about treatment for HIV?

There is no cure for HIV infection, but it can be treated. Drugs are available to help people with HIV stay healthy for a long time. The earlier treatment is started, the better for your long-term health. Early treatment also reduces your risk of giving the virus to your sex partners.

Preventing HIV with Medication PE English

Preventing HIV with Medication PE Spanish

HPV is one of the most common STIs in the United States. Some HPV types are spread through sexual contact. Certain types of HPV can cause abnormal changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer. HPV also is linked to cancer of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, head, and neck.

HPV infection generally has no symptoms. But a few types of HPV can cause genital warts. Warts can appear anywhere in the genital area.

Sometimes warts go away on their own. If they do not, there are treatments available. Even after warts have cleared up, HPV can remain in the body for weeks or years without symptoms.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

A vaccine is available that can significantly reduce the risk of getting cancer, precancer, and genital warts caused by HPV infection. The vaccine is safe and effective but does not protect against all types of HPV. This means that women should follow cervical cancer screening guidelines even if they were vaccinated.

How is the HPV vaccine given?

The HPV vaccine is given as a series of shots. The ideal age for HPV vaccination for girls and boys is 11 or 12, but it can be given starting at age nine and through age 26. If you are older than 26. have not been vaccinated, and are at risk of a new HPV infection, you and your health care professional can discuss whether you need the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is approved for people through age 45.

HPV Vaccination PE English

HPV Vaccination PE Spanish

Bacteria cause syphilis. The bacteria that cause syphilis enter the body through a cut in the skin or contact with a partner’s syphilis sore. Because this sore commonly occurs on the vulva, vagina, anus, or penis, syphilis most often is spread through sexual contact. If not treated, syphilis can cause long-term health problems.

Symptoms of syphilis differ by stage:

Primary stage—Syphilis first appears as a painless sore. This sore goes away without treatment in 3 to 6 weeks.

Secondary stage—If syphilis is not treated, the next stage begins as the sore is healing or several weeks after the sore has disappeared. Symptoms at this stage may include a rash on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands, flat warts on the vulva, and flu-like symptoms.

Latent infection—In some people, the rash and other symptoms may go away in a few weeks or months, but the infection is still in the body. This is called latent infection.

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. The length of treatment depends on how long you have had the infection. Over time, you may have blood tests to see if the treatment is working. Avoid sexual contact during treatment. If you are diagnosed with syphilis, you also should be tested for HIV. Your sex partners should be treated for syphilis too.

Without treatment, the symptoms of syphilis may go away, but the disease will remain. Years later, it can return in its most severe form and cause heart problems, nervous system problems, paralysis, and blindness.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis Patient Education

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis PE Spanish

Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis may cause itching, burning, a foul odor, or a large amount of discharge. It is one of the most common reasons women see their obstetrician-gynecologists (ob-gyms). There are many possible causes of vaginitis, and the type of treatment depends on the grounds.

What can cause vaginitis?

The vagina contains many organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, essential to its normal function. A change in the average balance of either yeast or bacteria can result in vaginitis. This causes the lining of the vagina to become inflamed. Factors that can change the average balance of the vagina include

  • antibiotics
  • changes in hormones levels due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause
  • douching
  • spermicides
  • sexual intercourse
  • infection

How is vaginitis treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the vaginitis. Treatment may be a pill, cream, or gel applied to the vagina.

It is important to follow treatment directions exactly, even if the symptoms go away before finishing the medication. Even though the symptoms disappear, the infection could still be present. Stopping the treatment early may cause symptoms to return.

If symptoms do not go away after the treatment is finished, or if they come back, see your ob-gyn. A different medicine may be needed.

Vaginitis PE English

Vaginitis PE Spanish

What are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections spread by sexual contact. STIs are very common and quickly spread. Some STIs can be treated and cured, but others cannot be cured. By knowing the facts, you can take steps to protect your health.

How are STIs spread?

Anyone who has sexual contact with another person is at risk of getting an STI. Some STIs cause symptoms, and others do not. A person with an STI can pass it to others through contact with skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. This includes contact through vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex. Even if there are no symptoms, your health can be affected.

What are the symptoms of an STI?

Symptoms can range from vaginal discharge and mild irritation to severe pain. Often, symptoms occur only if the infection has gone on for a while. In most cases, long-term health problems can be avoided with early treatment.

What causes STIs?

STIs are caused by infections with bacteria or viruses. STIs caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. STIs caused by viruses cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated. Even if there are no symptoms, tests can be done to diagnose infection. Testing will help you know if you have an STI so you can take steps to prevent passing it to others.

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Who is at the highest risk of STIs?

People are at high risk of getting STIs if they:

  • Have or have had more than one sexual partner
  • Have a partner who has or has had more than one sexual partner
  • Have sex with someone who has an STI
  • Have a history of STIs
  • Use intravenous drugs (injected into a vein) or have a partner who uses intravenous drugs

How can I protect myself from STIs?

There are many ways you can reduce your risk of getting an STI:

  • Know your sexual partners—The more partners you or your partners have, the higher your risk of getting an STI.
  • Use a latex or polyurethane condom—Using a latex or polyurethane condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex reduces the risk of infection.
  • Know that some sex practices increase the risk— Sexual acts that tear or break the skin carry a higher risk of STIs. Anal sex poses a high risk because tissues in the rectum break easily. Body fluids also can carry STIs. Having unprotected sexual contact with an infected person poses an increased risk of getting an STI.
  • Get vaccines—Vaccines are available to help protect against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).

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