General Education

A Brief Guide to Understanding STDs

A Brief Guide to Understanding STDs
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Phil Nobile profile
Phil Nobile August 27, 2014

College is time of freedom and exploration, but it’s also a time of responsibility. Get the facts so you can keep yourself safe from STDs.

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Sexually transmitted diseases and infections can be disastrous to long-term health, with repercussions like infertility and HIV infection risk.

With nearly 10 million people ages 15 to 24 in the United States getting an STD for the first time each year, education and understanding are critical.


Chlamydia is the most prevalent sexual bacterial infection with nearly 1.5 million new cases reported in 2012 alone, and it can can wreak havoc on the reproductive systems of both men and women if not treated appropriately. Caused by all forms of unprotected sexual intercourse, the infection often does not have any symptoms, but some signs may include a burning sensation when urinating or an abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.

Luckily, the disease can be easily treated and cured through antibiotics. It is also recommended to use condoms to avoid the STD, as well as being sexually active with a partner who tests negative for the infection.


Often accompanying chlamydia , gonorrhea is another common and treatable sexual infection with more than three-hundred thousand reported new cases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When present, symptoms are similar to chlamydia, and women more often than not don’t show any signs of the STD.

Where this infection differs is that antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea are becoming more common than ever. In an April study by the CDC, the disease control agency announced that gonorrhea became resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin from 1991 to 2006, with studies demonstrating that almost 14 percent of patients were resistant to the drug. In 2012, the agency has recommended treatment through a combination of alternative drugs, which so far the infection does not seem to resist.


A skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV, herpes comes most often in two types or locations of infection. Oral herpes, or an HSV-1 infection, is found in more than fifty percent of American adults in the form of cold sores or blisters. One in six people ages 14 to 49 have genital herpes, or HSV-2. Both type-1 and type-2 herpes can occur in either the genital or oral areas, but are usually distinctive between locations.

Mild symptoms for herpes are can be mistaken for other skin conditions, such as a pimple or ingrown hair, which can lead to some people not knowing they are infected. Most often, sores appear as blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth, and repeat outbreaks of the sores are common. With no cure for the disease, the only available treatment is medicine that can prevent or shorten outbreaks, as well as lower the chances of transmission.


Although there are up to six different types of hepatitis, it is hepatitis B — the most common liver infection in the world — that is primarily contracted through sexual intercourse. Found in blood and certain bodily fluids, the disease is caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and can be spread when a person comes into contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.

With 1.25 million cases in the United States and HBV being 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus, the disease causes 5,000 deaths due to hepatitis B liver failure and complications each year. Death is commonly attributed to liver cancer or cirrhosis after the liver is infected. There is no medication currently available to treat the disease; doctors recommend rest and nutrition if infected.

Thanks to routine hepatitis B vaccination beginning in the 1990s, the country has seen a decline in cases of nearly 82 percent in 25 years. Once recovered from the disease, the body develops antibodies that protect you from it for the rest of your life.


Often mistaken for pimples, cuts or even small bruises, syphilis can go undetected largely due to its unrecognizable nature. Painless sores go ignored in most instances, and a non-itchy rash on various spots of the body during the second stage of the infection can be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill rash. The last stage of syphilis can occur decades after the initial infection and can cause problems with body movement and lead to paralysis.

In 2012, slightly more than 15,000 new cases were reported. It can be cured with antibiotics, but even modern medicine will not prevent someone from contracting it a second time.


Called the “common cold of STDs" with nearly all men and women getting the virus at one point in their lives, human papillomavirus (HPV) lives in the body’s epithelial cells on the skin’s surface. More than three-fourths of sexually active Americans have been infected at one point, and about 20 million people in the U.S. report being currently infected.

Although in the majority of cases the infection can be defeated by the body’s immune system, HPV can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. Warts usually appear in clusters in the genital area, and cervical cancer can develop years after a person gets HPV. HPV can be spread by skin to skin contact, so condoms do not fully protect from infection. Getting vaccinated for HPV and screened for cervical cancer can help prevent any problems from the virus.


Now that you know the most common STDs, you can fully understand its relation to the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. People infected with STDs are two to five times more likely than uninfected individuals to acquire an HIV infection, and more than 1 million people in the U.S. currently live with HIV.

Because the human immune system cannot rid itself of HIV, the infection can often lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Doctors diagnosed more than 30,000 new cases of AIDS in the United States in 2011, and more than 1 million reported diagnoses were found through 2010.

Plenty of myths about HIV and AIDS have been debunked over the years, with some ranging from simply being around HIV-positive people can spread the disease, you can’t get HIV from oral sex and that you can get HIV from mosquito bites — all false and disproven.


New York State Department of Health

American Sexual Health Association


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