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Understanding, Treating, and Preventing STDs /
Questions to Ask your Health Care Professional

A photo of a couple hugging

Photo: Corbis

More than 19 million men and women in this country are affected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once called venereal diseases, STDs are among the most common infections in the United States today. The annual medical costs of STDs in the United States are estimated to be up to $14 billion.

Understanding the basic facts about STDs—the ways in which they are spread, their common symptoms, and how they can be treated—is the first step toward preventing them. Researchers supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are looking for better methods to diagnose, treat, and prevent STDs.


The symptoms vary among the different types of STDs. Some examples of common symptoms include:

  • Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Sores or warts on the genital area
  • Burning while urinating
  • Itching and redness in the genital area
  • Anal itching, soreness, or bleeding

Fast Facts

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that you can get from having sex with someone who has the infection. The causes of STDs are bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
  • There are more than 20 types of STDs, the most common of which include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes simplex, HIV/AIDS, HPV, syphilis and trichomoniasis.
  • STDs affect men and women. In many cases the health problems they cause can be more severe for women.
  • STDs caused by bacteria can be treated and often cured with antibiotics. Some bacterial STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.
  • STDs caused by viruses can be controlled, but not cured. If you get a viral STD, you will always have it. Some viral STDs include HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, genital warts, human papilloma virus (HPV), hepatitis B virus, and cytomegalovirus.
  • When diagnosed and treated early, many STDs can be treated effectively. Some infections have become resistant to the medicines used to treat them and now require newer types of treatments.
  • Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not completely get rid of the risk of catching or spreading STDs.
  • Approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half among young people ages 15 to 24.


Talk with your doctor or nurse about getting tested for STDs. She or he can tell you how to test for each STD.

An exam will include a thorough look at your genital area, oral cavity and rectum. Swabs from open sores or discharges may be taken. Women will have a pelvic exam. You will also have urine and blood tests.

Many symptoms of STDs come and go. Just because your symptoms disappear, it does not mean you are cured without medical treatment.


The treatment depends on the type of STD. For some STDs, treatment may involve taking drugs or getting a shot. For other STDs that can't be cured, like herpes, there is treatment to relieve the symptoms.


The only way to ensure that you won't get infected is to not have sex. This means avoiding all types of intimate sexual contact.

If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of getting STDs by practicing "safe sex." This means:

  • Using a condom for vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse—every time
  • Knowing your partner and his/her STD status and health
  • Having regular medical check-ups, especially if you have more than one sexual partner

Questions to Ask Your
Health Care Professional

  1. How can I prevent getting an STD?
  2. If I already have an STD, what should I do so I don't spread the disease?
  3. What long-term health effects will there be with an STD?

Read More "Sexually Transmitted Diseases" Articles
Understanding, Treating, and Preventing STDs / NIH Research Leads to Cervical Cancer Vaccine / NIH Research to Results

Fall 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 4 Pages 18 - 19