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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Exposure to Sexually Transmitted Infections
colds and the flu,
sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are some of the
most widespread infections both in the United States and the world. STIs affect
both men and women, and almost half of all STIs occur in people younger than 25
years old. Exposure to an STI can occur any time you have sexual contact with
anyone that involves the
genitals, the mouth (oral), or the rectum (anal).
Exposure is more likely if you have more than one sex partner or do not use
condoms. Some STIs can be passed by nonsexual contact, such as by sharing
needles or during the delivery of a baby or during breast-feeding. Sexually
transmitted infections (STIs) are also called sexually transmitted diseases
STIs are a worldwide public health concern because there is
more opportunity for STIs to be spread as more people travel and engage in
sexual activities. Some STIs have been linked to an increased risk of certain
cancers and infection with
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Pregnant women can
spread STIs to their babies. Many people may not have symptoms of an STI but
are still able to spread an infection.
STI testing can help find problems early on so that treatment can begin if
needed. It is important to practice safer sex with all partners, especially if
you or they have
high-risk sexual behaviors. See the Prevention section
of this topic.
If you think you may have symptoms of an STI:
There are at
least 20 different STIs. They can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.
Some of the most common STIs in the U.S. are:
STIs can be treated and cured, but STIs caused by
viruses usually cannot be cured. You can get a bacterial STI over and over
again, even if it is one that you were treated for and cured of in the
active teenagers and young adults are at high risk for STIs because they have
biological changes during the teen years that increase their risk for getting
an STI and they may be more likely to:
It is important to seek treatment if you think you may
have an STI or have been exposed to an STI. Most health departments, family
planning clinics, and STI clinics provide confidential services for the
diagnosis and treatment of STIs. Early treatment can cure a bacterial STI and
If you are a parent of a teenager, there are
many resources available, such as your health professional or family planning
clinics, to help you
talk with your teen about safer sex, preventing STIs, and being evaluated and
treated for STIs.
In women, STIs can cause a serious infection of the uterus and fallopian
tubes (reproductive organs) called
pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID may cause scar
tissue that blocks the fallopian tubes, leading to
pelvic abscess, or
chronic pelvic pain.
pregnant women may cause problems such as:
Any child or
vulnerable adult with
symptoms of an STI needs to be evaluated by a health
professional to determine the cause and to assess for possible sexual
If you have symptoms of an STI or
have been exposed to an STI whether by oral, anal, or vaginal sexual
activity, check your symptoms to decide if and when you should
see a doctor.
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Home treatment is never an appropriate treatment for a
sexually transmitted infection (STI). Evaluation by a
health professional is needed for:
Symptoms of STIs may not appear for many days, weeks, months,
HIV, even years after an exposure. After you have been
exposed to an STI, you cannot reduce the risk you now have of getting an
A regular habit of
genital self-examination once a month will help you
know what is normal for you and when you may have symptoms of an STI.
In addition to your health professional, there are other resources that
can help you with information about STI evaluation and treatment. These resources
Treatment for pregnant women is monitored by their health
professional to avoid complications. STIs in pregnant women may cause problems
It is important for you and an infected partner to complete
all medical treatment for an STI to prevent the infection from returning. You
may need to be rechecked after treatment is complete.
Call your doctor if symptoms persist or become more severe or
Home test kits for some STIs are available but it is
recommended that you consult your health professional about any STI
You can take measures to reduce your risk
of becoming infected with a
sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can also
reduce the risk of transmitting an STI to your sex partner.
sexual activity until you are prepared both physically and emotionally to have
sex. Nearly two-thirds of all STIs occur in people younger than 25 years old.
teenagers are at high risk for STIs because they
frequently have unprotected sex and have multiple partners. Biological changes
during the teen years also may increase their risk for getting an STI.
If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV shot. The vaccines Cervarix(What is a PDF document?) and Gardasil(What is a PDF document?) protect against two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types of HPV that cause genital warts. Three shots are given over 6 months. The series of shots is recommended for girls and boys ages 11 or 12. And catch-up immunization is recommended for certain males and females who haven't yet had the series of shots. For more information,
see the topic
STIs are a concern
worldwide. It is important to practice safer sex with all partners, especially
if you or they may have
high-risk sexual behaviors.
especially important that pregnant women who are at risk for STIs practice safer
sex because an STI can affect their baby (fetus). An STI
may threaten the life of your baby or cause serious long-term problems or
disabilities for your baby.
Preventing a sexually transmitted
infection (STI) is easier than treating an infection after it occurs.
Condoms can protect you against sexually
transmitted infections (STIs). Even if you are protected against pregnancy by
birth control pills or another method, use a condom to prevent STIs.
Using condoms reduces the risk of
becoming infected with most STIs, especially if the condoms are used correctly and
consistently. Condoms must be put on before beginning any sexual contact or
activity. Use condoms with a new partner until you are certain he or she does
not have an STI. See
male condom use.
Even if you are using another
birth control method to prevent pregnancy, you may wish to use condoms to
reduce your risk of getting an STI. Female condoms are available for women
whose partners do not have or will not use a male condom. See
female condom use.
Condoms do not prevent skin-to-sore contact in the
genital area, so it is possible to spread an STI with genital contact. It is
important to have any symptoms in the genital area evaluated
barriers, such as a dental dam, can be used to reduce the spread of infection
through oral sexual activity. You can discuss this with your dentist or health
Avoid douching if you are a woman, because it can change
the normal balance of organisms in the vagina and increases the risk of getting
Most spermicides contain a chemical
called nonoxynol-9 (N9). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that
N9 in vaginal contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the
vagina or rectum. This may increase the risk of getting HIV from an infected
So although using a spermicide with a condom is more
effective for birth control, using a spermicide may increase your risk for
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
health professional diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for
The American Social Health Association provides
accurate, medically reliable information about sexually transmitted diseases
(STDs) to the public, patients, providers, and policymakers. Its Web site has
resources to answer your questions as well as to help you find referrals, join
help groups, and get access to in-depth information about STDs. You can also
get information over the phone by calling 1-800-227-8922.
The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD,
and TB Prevention is a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC). Its website provides information and updates on sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and tuberculosis (TB). You
can also find fact sheets on these health topics.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of American provides
comprehensive reproductive health care and consumer information about family
planning, sexual health, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The Teen Talk Web site (www.plannedparenthood.org/teen-talk) has information for teens about dating, teen pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, how teens can protect themselves against STDs, and more.
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.
(SIECUS) develops, collects, and gives out information; promotes comprehensive
education about sexuality, including sexually transmitted diseases; and
advocates for the right of individuals to make responsible sexual
August 7, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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