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Questions and Answers about STDs

Q.What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

A. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or STDs, are also known as Sexually Transmitted Infections in the medical community. STDs are infections that can be transmitted from one individual to another primarily through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral).

In the United States alone, more than 15 million new cases of STD infections occur each year, with approximately 10 million new cases occurring among people between the ages of 15-24. This means that at least one out of three sexually active people will have contacted an STD by the time they become 24 years of age. Many STDs are treatable, while some have no known cure. Also, many of the infections cause physical discomfort, and there are even some that can become fatal. STD symptoms can range from annoying itching in weird places to serious symptoms that can really do damage to your body and overall health.

Q. Approximately how many STD infections occur in the United States each year?

A. 19 million, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Q. What percentage of new STDs are diagnosed each year among young people ages 15-24?

A. 50%

Q. True/False: Men and women infected with a STD always develop symptoms when the first infection occurs.

A. False. Many times, especially in women, STDs don't have any symptoms.

Q. What is the most common STD?

A. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). The CDC (Center for Disease Control) estimates that at least 50% of all folks having sex will have HPV at some point in their lives. There are over 100 different strains of HPV. Some cause genital warts and others lead to cervical cancer (which is completely treatable if diagnosed soon enough but can be deadly). Women are tested for HPV if abnormal cells are found through a Pap test. Men are carriers of HPV, but it is only visible if they have genital warts, and doctors do not test men for it. It is less likely that you'll get HPV if you use latex condoms, but it's really easy to spread (sometimes not even through sex). There's now a vaccine out that prevents you from getting four strands of HPV-90% of genital warts and 70% of HPV-related cervical cancer. [See HPV cards for more information on the virus and vaccine.]

Q. How do you get tested for STDs?

A. You should get a Pap smear - a simple procedure that collects cells from your cervix to test for cancer or precancerous changes. This type of cancer can arise as a result of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia screening is either done through a urine test or through a swab from the inside of the cervix in women. To test for syphilis, either a blood sample or a swab from any genital sores you might have. In most places, an HIV test can administered in two ways: Orasure (a swab of the cells in the mouth) or Oraquick (a 20-40 minute rapid test that uses either the cells in the mouth or blood from one of your fingers).

Q. What are the two types of STDs?

A. Sexually transmitted diseases can be divided into two types: bacterial and viral. Bacterial STDs are caused by bacteria, while viral STDs are caused by viruses. Since some STDs are bacterial and others are viral, STDs will vary in how they can be treated. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial STDs. However, viral STDs have no known cure but treatment can be used to reduce their symptoms and/or outbreaks.

Q. What are some common signs that you may have an STD?

A. It's important to know that there are some STDs that have virtually no symptoms, while there are some that have symptoms that can sometimes be mistaken with being another physical condition. There is also a possibility that a person may not be able to recognize the symptoms at all. Many STDs are undetectable, meaning that a person can live a daily existence without seeing or experiencing any symptoms. People with STDs can appear physically healthy and may not experience any symptoms, or they may experience symptoms months, or even years after being infected.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Burning, pain, or irritation during urination
  • Noticeable sores around the mouth and genitals
  • Vaginal discharge that smells or looks strange
  • Flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, aches, and swelling around the groin area)

Q. Are there some STDs that occur more often than others?

A. Yes. The most common STDs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Trichomoniasis, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B, Genital Herpes, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). STDs that occur less often are Bacterial Vaginosis, Candidiasis, Granuloma Inguinale, Chancroid, Molluscum Contagiousum, Lymphogranumloma Venereum, Mucopurulent Cervicitis, and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.

(More details will be on our website!)

Q. Are STDs preventable?

A. Yes! People become infected with an STD when they have sex. And "sex" is not solely vaginal. Sex includes anal sex as well as oral sex. Sexual abstinence (the act of not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex) is the only method that works 100% in preventing STD infection. Having sex with someone who has an STD increases your chances of getting an STD. Having one STD can also make you more susceptible to contracting another STD, especially HIV, because your body's immune system can become weakened.

If you are or decide to be sexually active, using contraception like condoms consistently and correctly can dramatically reduce your risk of contracting STDs. So if you are going to have sex, make sure to protect yourself and your partner.

Q. How can you find out more information about STDs and treatments?

A. In addition to visiting your doctor, you can also find out more about STDs and how to seek treatment by visiting a local community health clinic (many are free of charge) or even your school/college's health care facility.

Q. What are crabs?

A. Public lice are insect parasites, spending their entire life on the person's hair and skin and feeding exclusively on blood, 4-5 times daily. They usually infect a new person only by close contact between individuals, such as sexual contact and also sharing towels clothing, or beds. Medications called pyrethroids can be used to remove the lice and its eggs.

Q. What infection is caused by untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea?

A. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman's reproductive organs, usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection. Although PID can often be treated quickly and effectively, if left untreated it can cause infertility. The condition happens when an infection spreads from the vagina and cervix (neck of the womb) to the womb (uterus), ovaries and fallopian tubes (the tubes that go from the ovaries to the womb). PID can cause abscesses, scarring and damage to your reproductive organs. This can cause pelvic pain, infertility and ectopic pregnancies. Ectopic pregnancy is where a fetus starts to develop outside the womb (usually in a fallopian tube).

Q. What is trichomoniasis?

A. Trichomoniasis is caused by the single-celled protozoan parasite. The vagina is the most common site of infection in women. The parasite is sexually transmitted through penis-to-vagina intercourse or vulva-to-vulva (the genital area outside the vagina) contact with an infected partner. Women can acquire the disease from infected men or women. Some women have signs or symptoms of infection which include a frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor. The infection also may cause discomfort during intercourse and urination, as well as irritation and itching of the female genital area. In rare cases, lower abdominal pain can occur. Symptoms usually appear in women within 5 to 28 days of exposure.

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Reproductive Justice Issues

What is Reproductive Justice?
Reproductive Justice in Our Communities
Parenting and Giving Birth
Abortion and Birth Control
Sex Education
Access to Reproductive Health Care
Reproductive Technologies
Spirituality and Reproductive Justice
Sexual Health, Anatomy, and STD's