Top 10 Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases


A sexually transmitted disease (STD) means that the infection is spread through sexual contact. In the U.S., about 15.3 million new STD cases are reported every year. The best way to prevent them is through abstinence or being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who does not have an infection.

1. Chlamydia

It’s called the silent STD. Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with about 4 million new cases reported each year. There are usually no early symptoms of chlamydia, which, in part, explains the high incidence of the disease. Chlamydia can cause infertility in both men and women. The disease can be cured with antibiotics.

Chlamydia occurs four times more often than gonorrhea. A pregnant woman may pass the infection to her baby during delivery, causing infection of the eyes or possibly pneumonia.

Prevention: Many doctors recommend everyone who has had more than one sex partner, especially women 25 and younger, be tested for chlamydia infection regularly, even if they have no symptoms. Using condoms or diaphragms during sexual intercourse may help reduce the transmission of chlamydia.

How you get chlamydia Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected partner. Frequently noneGenital discharge

Bleeding between periods

Low-grade fever

Painful urination or intercourse

Inflamed or itchy rectum


Laboratory testing of genital secretions or urine sample Antibiotics

2. Herpes

Herpes can take two forms: fever blisters on the mouth or face (oral herpes, or HSV-type 1), or those appearing in the genital area (, or HSV-type 2). Both forms are spread from skin-to-skin contact, either to the mouth or genital area. Often, people who have herpes don’t have symptoms, but others have outbreaks of blisters or ulcers. Herpes infection is life-long, but outbreaks can be suppressed with medication.

Herpes is contagious just before an outbreak of blisters, when the skin may itch or tingle. The disease is most contagious when the sores are open and least contagious when the skin is normal. Outbreaks last about two weeks, but afterwards, the virus remains in the body. It can become active and cause an outbreak again at any time. Some people never experience more than one outbreak while others have frequent outbreaks.

Although no cure exists for herpes, over the course of a few years, outbreaks tend to become less frequent, usually ending almost entirely within five or six years.

Transmission of herpes from mother to baby during delivery can have grave consequences. However, infection is less likely to occur during a herpes recurrence than an initial episode.

Prevention: Frequently, people experience warning signs before an outbreak, when herpes is most contagious. These include a tingling, burning or itching sensation. That’s a signal to avoid sexual contact of any kind until the outbreak is over and all signs of sores and scabs have disappeared. Between outbreaks, condoms can help reduce the spread of herpes between asymptomatic people.

How you get herpes Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Skin-to-skin contact with an infected person who may or may not exhibit symptoms, including kissing or any form of sexual contact. Blisters or open soresPain


Flu-like symptoms during first episodes

Fluid is taken from sores and tested in the laboratory Cannot be cured; symptoms may be suppressed or relieved with medication

3. HPV and genital warts

Human papillomavirus (HPV), among the most common causes of STDs in the world, refers to not one, but 60 viruses. Some cause different types of warts. Many are found on feet, hands or other parts of the body, and some live in the genital area and are spread through genital contact. Although some forms of HPV virus cause cervical and other genital cancers, according to Planned Parenthood, the HPVs that cause genital warts do not seem to be directly associated with these cancers. However, women should have regular Pap smears so that pre-cancerous conditions can be treated.

Genital warts are very contagious. About two thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner with genital warts develop them within three months. In women, genital warts can occur on the outside and inside of the vagina, on the cervix, or around the anus. In men, genital warts are less common, but occur on the tip of the penis, on the shaft of the penis, on the scrotum or around the anus. Rarely, genital warts can develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.

Genital warts often occur in clusters and can be very tiny or can spread into large masses. Left untreated, genital warts often disappear. In other cases, they eventually may develop into a fleshy, raised growth with a cauliflower-like appearance. There is no way to predict whether the warts will grow or disappear. If you suspect you have genital warts, you should see a health care provider.

Prevention: People should stop all sexual contact as soon as they know or think they have genital warts and seek treatment immediately to avoid spreading them. However, symptoms are not always visible. It is uncertain whether condoms protect you from this particular STD.

How you get HPV and genital warts Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Sexual contact with an infected person Sometimes noneFirm, rough warts, sometimes flat, sometimes clustered

Irritation, burning and itching

Foul smell

Painful intercourse

Increased vaginal discharge

Genital examination; microscopic analysis of tissue samples; Pap tests Removal through freezing, burning or laser treatment; Topical creams; Injection of antiviral drugs

4. Syphilis

Once deadly, syphilis now can be easily and effectively treated. The problem is that many people do not recognize syphilis’ early symptoms and do not seek out treatment. Of increasing concern is the fact that syphilis increases the risk of transmitting and acquiring the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

A bacterial infection, syphilis is marked by the appearance of a single sore, called a chancre, at the spot where the bacterium entered the body. The chancre lasts one to five weeks and heals on its own, leaving some people to assume the problem has vanished with the sore: a deadly mistake. The disease has not disappeared but advanced to the second stage, characterized by rashes, blotches, bumps, warts or white patches on various parts of the body. Because the second stage also can present with fever, sore throat, and headache, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate it from a viral illness such as the flu. These, too, will disappear on their own, and if left untreated, the disease will advance further without visible symptoms to damage the internal organs and nervous system. An unrecognized syphilis infection during pregnancy may result in serious consequences to the baby.

Prevention: When properly used, latex condoms offer very good protection against syphilis.

How you get syphilis Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected partner. It can also be transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy Frequently nonePainless sores or open wet ulcers (chancres) on the genitals, inside the vagina, on lips, mouth


Flu-like symptoms

Swollen glands

Blood test; microscopic examination of materials from sores Penicillin by injection

5. Gonorrhea

About 800,000 cases of gonorrhea occur in the United States every year. Caused by a bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, gonorrhea grows and multiplies quickly in moist, warm areas of the body, including the reproductive tract, the mouth and the rectum. Although in women the cervix usually is the initial site of infection, the disease can spread to the reproductive organs, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease, and eventually, sterility.

Prevention: When properly used, latex condoms offer some protection against gonorrhea.

How you get gonorrhea Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected partner. Frequently nonePainful or burning urination

Yellow or bloody discharge from vagina or penis

Abdominal pain

Bleeding between periods

Vomiting or fever

Microscopic analysis of discharge from penis or cervix; Gene testing using urine or cervical specimens; Laboratory cultures Antibiotics by injection or mouth


Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has become a worldwide epidemic. Caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), AIDS attacks the immune system, progressively destroying the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as many as 900,000 Americans may be infected with HIV.

HIV is spread most commonly by sexual contact with an infected partner or from mother to baby during delivery. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth during sex. HIV is also spread through contact with infected blood.

Prevention: When properly used, latex condoms offer very good protection against AIDS.

7. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

Many different organisms can cause PID, but most cases are associated with gonorrhea and genital chlamydial infections, two very common STDs. When disease-causing organisms migrate upward from the urethra and cervix into the upper genital tract, PID can occur.

Investigators are learning more about how these organisms cause PID. They believe that the bacteria probably travel to the fallopian tubes, where they cause sloughing (throwing off) of some cells while invading others. Researchers think they multiply within and beneath these cells, then spread to other organs.

Women with recurrent episodes of PID are more likely than women with a single episode to suffer scarring of the tubes that leads to infertility, tubal pregnancy or chronic pelvic pain. Infertility occurs in approximately 20 percent of women who have had PID, according to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Most women with tubal infertility, however, never had symptoms of PID. Organisms such as C. trachomatis can silently invade the fallopian tubes and cause scarring that blocks the normal passage of eggs into the uterus.

Prevention: Women should consult their health care provider if they experience heavy, unusual or foul-smelling vaginal discharge, pain with sexual intercourse or bleeding between menstrual cycles. When used properly, latex condoms can help reduce your risk of acquiring an STD that leads to PID.

How you get PID Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Unprotected vaginal sex, oral or anal sex with an infected partner; occurs most frequently from an untreated STD 1. Frequently none
2. Abdominal pain
3. Painful intercourse
4. Irregular menstrual bleeding
5. Vaginal discharge
6. Fever
Physical exam; testing for the presence of Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or other STDs Multiple antibiotics both oral and injections; possible hospitalization

8. Trichomoniasis

Every year, about 3 million Americans develop trichomoniasis, caused by a tiny organism. “Trich” as it is often called, usually causes a discharge and a fishy order from the vagina. In men it is usually unrecognized, although rarely it can cause urinary infection.

Prevention: When properly used, latex condoms offer very good protection against trich. Spermicides offer some protection.

How you get trichomoniasis Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Unprotected vaginal sex with an infected partner Frequently noneHeavy vaginal discharge

Vaginal itching

Discolored vaginal discharge

Painful urination

Microscopic examination of sample fluid from vagina or penis Drugs called 5-notroimidazoles

9. Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by viruses, certain medications and alcohol abuse. Among the five currently recognized viral forms (A, B, C, D and E), hepatitis B is the most dangerous. It is highly contagious, most commonly spread through the exchange of semen, vaginal fluids, saliva, blood or contaminated syringes and needles. Hepatitis B also can be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery. Many people carry the virus, yet have no idea that they even have it. Usually the symptoms last several weeks, with recovery taking up to six months. About 10 percent of people with hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis, which can be mild or severe. The more severe cases can cause permanent liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer. According to the American Social Health Association, hepatitis B is 100 times more contagious than HIV.

Lamivudine® has been approved by the FDA to treat hepatitis B carriers. A vaccine against the disease is also available and should be given to young patients and any individual that is sexually active as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis C is the leading infectious cause of chronic liver disease and if untreated can lead to cirrhosis or hepatoma (a malignancy of the liver). Chronic hepatitis C can now be treated with nterferon and Ribavirin®.

Prevention: A vaccine can protect you against hepatitis B. Condoms for intercourse or male oral sex are recommended. For female oral sex, moisture barriers are recommended.

How you get hepatitis B Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment
Transmitted through cuts, open sores, mouth, vagina; rarely, through blood transfusions; sharing toothbrushes, razors and other personal items; sharing syringes or needles, including those used for body piercing and tattooing Frequently noneYellowing of the skin and/or eyes

Flu-like symptoms

Itching hives

Pain in joints

Dark urine

Nausea, fatigue

Blood test Bed rest and dietary modifications to protect the liver; abstinence from alcohol and certain medications

10. Pubic lice

Pubic lice are tiny insects that are transmitted during intimate contact or contact with infected bedding, clothing, toilet seats or furniture. Often they can be seen with the naked eye and look like tiny crabs. They are pale gray but darken in color when swollen with blood. They attach to pubic hair, underarm hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Their eggs are white and are deposited near the hair roots.

Prevention: Limit the number of sexual contacts. Look closely at your partner’s genital area to observe any unusual looking “spots.”

How you get pubic lice




Intimate contact

Intense itching in the genitals or anus Can be self-diagnosed with the naked eye or magnifying glass Follow directions on over-the-counter medications
External Source

Office of Women’s Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, MS: D-51 Atlanta, GA 30033 Phone: (404) 639-7230.
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