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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are spread by sexual contact. Sexually transmitted infections can cause severe damage to your body—even death. Except for colds and flu, STIs are the most common contagious (easily spread) infections in the United States, with millions of new cases each year. Although some STIs can be treated and cured, others cannot.
A person with an STI can pass it to others by contact with skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. Anyone who has sexual contact—vaginal, anal, or oral sex—with another person may get an STI. STIs may not cause symptoms. Even if there are no symptoms, your health can be affected.
STIs are caused by bacterial or viral infections. Sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. Those caused by viruses cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated.
The following factors increase the risk of getting STIs:
There are many ways you can reduce your risk of getting an STI:
Having an STI during pregnancy can harm the baby. Gonorrhea and chlamydia both can cause health problems in the infant ranging from eye infections to pneumonia. Syphilis may cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Human immunodeficiency virus infection can occur in a baby.
If you are pregnant and you or your partner have had—or may have—an STI, inform your health care provider. Your baby may be at risk. Tests for some STIs are offered routinely during prenatal care. It is best to treat the STI early to decrease the chances that your baby also will contract the infection. You and your partner both may have to be treated.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These three STIs can cause serious, long- term problems if they are not treated, especially for teenagers and young women.
Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are caused by bacteria. The bacteria are passed from one person to another through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Gonorrhea and chlamydia often occur together.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia infections can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra, and rectum. In women, the most common place is the cervix (the opening of the uterus).
Although gonorrhea and chlamydia can occur at any age, young women and teenagers who are sexually active are at greater risk of both infections.
Women with gonorrhea or chlamydia often have no symptoms. When symptoms from either infection do occur, they may show up 2 days to 3 weeks after infection. They may be very mild and can be mistaken for a urinary tract or vaginal infection.
The most common symptoms in women include the following:
To find out if you have gonorrhea or chlamydia, your health care professional may take a sample of cells from your throat, cervix, urethra, or rectum where the infection may occur. Gonorrhea and chlamydia also can be detected with a urine test.
Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection that occurs when bacteria move from the vagina and cervix upward into the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. After a woman is infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia and if she does not receive treatment, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before she develops PID.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are treated with antibiotics. You will need to be retested 3 months after treatment to see if the infection is gone.
Syphilis also is caused by bacteria. It differs from gonorrhea and chlamydia because it occurs in stages. It is spread more easily in some stages than in others.
The bacteria that cause syphilis enter the body through a cut in the skin or through contact with a syphilis sore known as a chancre. Because this sore commonly occurs on the vulva, vagina, anus, or penis, syphilis most often is spread through sexual contact. It also can be spread by touching the rash, warts, or infected blood during the secondary stage of infection.
Symptoms of syphilis differ by stage:
In the early stages, discharge from open sores is examined to see if syphilis bacteria are present. In later stages, a blood test also can be done to check for antibodies to the bacteria.
Late-stage syphilis is a serious illness. Heart problems, neurologic problems, and tumors may occur, leading to brain damage, blindness, paralysis, and even death. The genital sores caused by syphilis also make it easier to become infected with and transmit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. If it is caught and treated early, long-term problems can be prevented. The length of treatment depends on how long a person has had the disease.
You can take steps to avoid getting gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis. These safeguards also help protect against other STIs:
STDs are caused by bacterial or viral infections through sexual contact via genitals, anal, mouth or body fluids.
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