Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Symptoms & Causes

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Human Immunodeficiency Virus(HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

  • AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a virus that destroys the body's ability to fight off infection.
  • People who have AIDS are very susceptible to many life-threatening diseases and to certain forms of cancer. AIDS has long been considered a fatal disease. However, over the past decade, a combination of medicines has become available that turn AIDS into a chronic, though incurable, illness.
  • Transmission of the virus most often occurs during sexual activity or by the sharing of needles used to inject intravenous drugs.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

  • HPV is a group of over 100 different viruses, some of which cause warts on the inside or outside of the genitals. These warts can spread to surrounding skin or to a sexual partner.
  • At least one in every two sexually active young women has HPV.
  • HPV is sometimes symptomless, so women may not know they have it and men may not know they are carrying it.
  • Women with an HPV infection are at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer, but regular Pap tests are often able to catch an infection.
  • In 2006, the FDA approved a new HPV vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine currently targets two types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and two types of HPV that cause 90 percent of genital warts.
  • Smoking appears to worsen the problems of HPV infection.


  • Chlamydia, one of the most common STDs, affects four million American men and women each year.
  • Infections may cause abnormal genital discharge or a burning sensation during urination, but some people have few or no symptoms.
  • Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.


  • Gonorrhea is a bacterial STD, often referred to as "the clap," or "a dose," or "a drip."
  • There are over 700,000 cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. every year.
  • The infection causes a discharge from the vagina or penis and painful or difficult urination.
  • Women are much more likely to catch gonorrhea from men than men are from women but both can get it.
  • The most common and serious complications occur in women, which include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and infertility.
  • Gonorrhea infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy.

Genital Herpes

  • Half a million Americans are diagnosed with genital herpes each year. Many more don't know they have the virus because they have no symptoms.
  • Herpes is an infection caused by two different but closely related viruses, called Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2).
  • HSV-1 commonly causes "cold sores" or "fever blisters" on the lips. However, HSV-1 can also be spread by oral sexual contact and then cause genital herpes. Ninety percent of Americans have HSV-1 at some time in their life.
  • HSV-2 is almost always spread by sexual contact and causes genital herpes or open sores around the vulva, cervix, anus and penis. A tingling or burning sensation precedes an outbreak.
  • Herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time.
  • There is no cure for HSV but there are anti-viral agents an individual can take during an outbreak to decrease the length of the outbreak.


  • Syphilis is an STD caused by a very small organism called a spirochete.
  • The infection needs to be treated with antibiotics early to avoid serious problems.
  • In 2006, there were over 36,000 reported cases of syphilis in the U.S.
  • The first symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore that usually appears on the penis, in the vagina or around either sexual organ.
  • It is usually passed through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex, or other close personal contact.

Other diseases

How can my child prevent getting an STD?

The only way you or your child can completely prevent an STD is to not have sex. The younger a person is when they begin to have sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD. As parents, you can't always control this part of your child's life, but Children's advises you to talk to him or her about sex and STDs early. Teens should read: Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Guide for Teens from the Center for Young Women's Health.

If sexually active, the best thing is to use a latex condom each and every time you have sex and avoid multiple sex partners. Always make sure your partner knows their STD status before having sex with him or her. Remember, gay and lesbian sexual activity can pass STDs just as easily as heterosexual sex.

Precautionary measures, recommended by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, can help to reduce your risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease. These include the following:

  • have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner
  • use (consistently and correctly) a male condom
  • use a barrier method for sex between females
  • don't inject drugs, or use sterile needles if injecting intravenous drugs
  • have regular checkups for STDs
  • learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms develop
  • use a condom during anal sex
  • avoid douching
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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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