The Tip of the Iceberg: How Big Is the STD Epidemic in the U.S.?
A Fact Sheet On Sexually Transmitted Diseases
STD: Chlamydia What it is: A bacterial infection of the genital area. How many get it: About 3 million Americans each year; the highest rates are among women aged 15 to 19 – in fact, in some communities studies have found that up to 30 percent of sexually active teenage women and 10 percent of sexually active teenage men are infected. Signs: There are no symptoms in most women and many men who have it. Others may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding (not your period), unusual discharge or pain within one to three weeks of having sex with an infected partner. How it’s spread: Through vaginal or anal intercourse. Treatment: Oral antibiotics cure the infection; both partners must be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth – and need to abstain from intercourse until the infection is gone. Possible consequences: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, infertility, and increased risk of HIV infection.
STD: Trichomoniasis (“Trich”) What it is: A parasitic infection of the genital area. How many get it: As many as 5 million Americans each year. Signs: Often there are no symptoms, especially in men. Some women note a frothy, smelly, yellowish – green vaginal discharge, and/or genital area discomfort, usually within 3 to 28 days after exposure to the parasite. How it’s spread: Through vaginal intercourse. Treatment: Antibiotics can cure the infection. Both partners need to be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth – and need to abstain from intercourse until the infection is gone. Possible consequences: Increased risk of HIV infection; can cause complications during pregnancy. Also, it’s common for this infection to happen again and again.
STD: Gonorrhea What it is: A bacterial infection of the genital area. How many get it: Approximately 650,000 Americans a year; the highest rates are among women aged 15 to 19. Signs: Most women and many men who get it have no symptoms. For those who do get symptoms, it can cause a burning sensation while urinating, green or yellowish vaginal or penile discharge, and for women, abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, and/or fever within 10 days of getting infected. It takes 1 to 14 days for symptoms – such as discharge or pain – to appear. How it’s spread: Through vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. Treatment: Oral antibiotics. Both partners need to be treated at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth – and need to abstain from intercourse until the infection is gone. Possible consequences: PID, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, sterility, increased risk of HIV infection. The infection can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes. It can also cause complications during pregnancy (including stillbirth) or infant blindness or meningitis (from an infected mom during delivery).
STD: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) What it is: A viral infection with 60 different types, primarily affecting the genital area, both the outer and inner surfaces. How many get it: An estimated 5.5 million Americans per year; about 20 million people already have it. Signs: Soft, itchy warts in and around the vagina, penis, and anus, may appear two weeks to three months after exposure. Many people, however, have no symptoms but may still be contagious. How it’s spread: Through vaginal or anal intercourse, or by touching or rubbing an infected area. Treatment: There is no cure. Warts can be removed through medication or surgery. Even with such treatments, the virus stays in the body and can cause future outbreaks. Possible consequences: Increased risk of genital cancer for men and women. Some virus types cause the most common form of cervical cancer in women.
STD: Genital Herpes What it is: A viral infection of the genital area (and sometimes around the mouth). How many get it: Between 1,000,000 Americans each year; an estimated 45 million Americans already have genital herpes. Signs: There are two kinds of herpes. Herpes 1 causes cold sores and fever blisters on the mouth but can be spread to the genitals; Herpes 2 is usually on the genitals. Nearly two – thirds of people who are infected with herpes don’t even realize it. An outbreak can cause red bumps that turn into painful blisters or sores on the vagina, penis, buttocks, thighs, or elsewhere. During the first attack, it can also lead to fever, headaches, and a burning sensation when you urinate. Symptoms usually appear within 2 to 20 days of infection but can take longer in some cases. The first outbreak is usually more severe than later recurrences. How it’s spread: By touching an infected area or having vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. Warning: some people may be contagious even when they don’t have symptoms. Treatment: There is no cure. An antiviral drug can help the pain and itching and also reduce the frequency of recurrent outbreaks. Possible consequences: Recurrent sores (the virus lives in the nerve roots and keeps coming back), as well as increased risk of HIV infection. May cause complications during pregnancy, possibly causing severe illness, disabilities, or (in rare cases) death for an infant if there is active infection during childbirth. (A cesarean section delivery can reduce this risk.)
STD: Syphilis What it is: An infection caused by small organisms, which can spread throughout the body. How many get it: About 70,000 Americans a year. Signs: In the first phase, sores may appear on the genitals or mouth about three weeks to three months after exposure, lasting for three to six weeks. Often, however, there are no noticeable symptoms. In the second stage, about three to six weeks after sores appear, a variety of symptoms can appear, including a rash (often on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet). How it’s spread: Through vaginal, oral, or anal sex – and through kissing. Treatment: Antibiotic treatment can cure the disease if it’s caught early, but medication can’t undo damage the disease has already done. Both partners must be treated at the same time. Possible consequences: Increased risk of HIV infection. If syphilis is untreated, about a third of people who reach the disease’s late phase may experience brain damage, heart disease, nerve damage, and other incapacitating health problems. If untreated, it can seriously harm or even kill a developing fetus during pregnancy.
STD: Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) What it is: A viral infection primarily affecting the liver. How many get it: About 77,000 Americans a year; more than 750,000 people in the U.S. now have HBV. Signs: Many people don’t have any symptoms. Others may experience severe fatigue, achiness, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, darkening of urine, or abdominal tenderness, usually within one to two months of exposure. Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (called jaundice), and darkening of the urine can occur later. How it’s spread: Through vaginal, oral, and anal sex – and through kissing. Also by sharing contaminated needles. Treatment: Most cases clear up within one to two months without treatment, during which complete abstinence from alcohol is recommended until liver function returns to normal. Some people are contagious for the rest of their lives. A vaccine is now available to prevent this STD. Possible consequences: Chronic, persistent inflammation of the liver and later cirrhosis or cancer of the liver; plus, 90 percent of babies born to women with HBV will carry the virus unless they are vaccinated within an hour of birth.