5 things to know
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and from all walks of life. As the name suggests, STIs are usually are passed on through sex—vaginal, oral or anal.
Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus, even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact—no penetration necessary. Some STIs can be spread in other ways also. For example, HIV and hepatitis B are also spread through sharing needles for injecting drugs or medicines.Knowing about STIs and how to get tested and treated is essential to taking care of your sexual health.
#1—STIs are very common
Anyone who is sexually active can get an STI. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new cases each year. About half of these cases are in young people ages 15-24 years.
#2—Most STIs have no symptoms
The fact that most STIs have no noticeable symptoms is one reason why the term STI is now more commonly used—a person can have an infection but no signs on any disease. So symptoms (or the lack or symptoms) is no way to judge whether you, or someone else, has an STI. The only way to know is to get tested.
#3—Without treatment, STIs can cause severe health problems
Take chlamydia as an example. This STI is easily treated and cured with antibiotics. But if chlamydia goes untreated in a person with a uterus, it can lead to a more severe condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries can all be damaged by untreated infection and this damage can harm future fertility (the ability to have children). In the U.S., PID is the leading cause of infertility in women.
Syphilis is another example. In the early stages of infection, syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. But left untreated, syphilis can cause can cause serious, irreversibly damage and even death. Syphilis during pregnancy is also serious issue. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. Babies born with syphilis can face lifelong medical issues.
#4—All STIs are treatable
While not all STIs can be cured, they can all be treated. For example, while HIV infection can’t be cured, HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy or ART) reduces the amount of HIV in your body and helps you stay healthy. It also helps prevent the virus from being passed on to sexual partners.
Health problems can happen when STI are untreated, so getting tested regularly is important.
#5—Free or low cost confidential testing is available
STD or STI?
While you’ll see both terms used, there has been a shift in recent years to STI. Why? The concept of “disease,” as in STD, suggests a clear medical problem, usually some obvious signs or symptoms. But many common STDs have no signs or symptoms in most of the people who have them. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked. So a person can have an infection that may or may not result in disease. This is true of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV), to name a few.