What is an STD?
An STD is a sexually transmitted disease; an infection that is transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex, intravenous drug use or through nonsexual contact such as childbirth or breastfeeding.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, there are 19 million reported STD cases each year in the United States.
STDs are common and it is possible to be infected without being aware because many STDs do not display obvious signs or symptoms.
STD testing once or twice every year is recommended. Regular STD testing is a great way to protect your sexual health as well as the health of your partner.
Should I get tested for STDs?
Yes. Take charge of your sexual health. Some STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, may not display any symptoms at all, but are still just as contagious.
Especially get tested if you experience any of these common STD symptoms: Genital sores, itching, unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, or a burning sensation during urination.
Some people assume that they are tested for STDs when they have a Pap test or physical, but often this is not the case. There is no comprehensive test for all STDs because each test is specific to an infection.
If you have STD symptoms, or have had unprotected sex, it is crucial that you and your partner get tested. By getting an STD test, you can officially put your mind at ease– Afterall, the most common STD symptoms is to have no symptoms at all.
How do I know if I have an STD?
You can have an STD and not know it due to a lack of symptoms. For instance, you can contract chlamydia or gonorrhea and not have the infection treated due to lack of bumps, rashes or itching.
The “silent” nature of STDs helps explain why these infections are so widespread as so many individuals are simply unaware that they have one or more and they spread them unknowingly. Help put an end to the spread of STDs and help protect yourself by learning your status.
Is oral sex safe sex?
Simply put, no. You are just as vulnerable to STDs from unprotected oral sex, whether you are the giver or the recipient, as you are with any other unprotected sexual activity.
Oral sex may be comparatively less risky than vaginal or anal sex, but it is still advisable to use a latex or polyurethane condom, or dental dam in order to be safer.
STDs can be transmitted through mouth sores and/or cuts, and some infections, such as herpes, can be spread via skin-to-skin contact.
While condoms are not 100% effective in preventing all STDs, they greatly decrease the risk of transmitting an STD during oral sex.
What is HIV and should I be tested?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.
Only certain body fluids; blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV.
These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to occur.
Mucous membranes are found inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth. Early HIV infection often times has no symptoms.
The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to be tested. Currently, there is no effective cure that exists for HIV. However, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.
CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once as a part of their routine health care.
People with higher risk factors, such as more than one sex partner, other STDs, gay and bisexual men and individuals who inject drugs should be tested at least once a year.
How do I know if I am at risk to get HIV?
Knowing your risk can help you make important decisions to prevent exposure to HIV. The CDC has developed the HIV Risk Reduction Tool to help you know risk and for better understanding of how different prevention methods like using condoms or taking PrEP, can reduce your risk.
Overall, an American has a 1 in 99 chance of being diagnosed with HIV at some point in his or her lifetime. However, the lifetime risk is much greater among some populations. If current diagnosis rates continue the lifetime risk of getting HIV is:
- 1 in 6 for gay and bisexual men overall
- 1 in 2 for African American gay and bisexual men
- 1 in 4 for Hispanic gay and bisexual men
- 1 in 11 for white gay and bisexual men
- 1 in 20 for African American men overall
- 1 in 48 for African American women overall
- 1 in 23 for women who inject drugs
- 1 in 36 for men who inject drugs
Your health behaviors also affect your risk. You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. HIV is commonly transmitted through anal or vaginal sex without a condom or sharing injection and other drug injection equipment with a person infected with HIV.
Substance use can increase the risk of exposure to HIV because alcohol and other drugs can affect your decision to use condoms during sex.
What is National HIV Testing Day?
National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is an annual observance to encourage people of all ages to get tested for HIV and to know their status. Too many people don’t know they have HIV.
At the end of 2014, an estimated 1.1 million persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including an estimated 166,000 (15%, or 1 in 7) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed.
Getting tested is the first step to finding out if you have HIV. If you have HIV, getting medical care and taking medicines regularly helps you live a longer, healthier life and also lowers the chances of passing HIV on to others.
Testing is the only way for the Americans living with undiagnosed HIV to know their HIV status and get into care.
CDC estimates that more than 90% of all new infections could be prevented by proper testing and linking HIV positive persons to care.
HIV testing saves lives! It is one of the most powerful tools in the fight against HIV. For more information about National HIV Testing Day and how your agency can get involved, visit: https://npin.cdc.gov/nhtd
What is viral hepatitis and should I be tested?
Viral Hepatitis refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. The most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.
Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems.
There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. Recommendations for testing depend on many different factors and on the type of hepatitis.
What are sexually transmitted diseases and should I be tested?
CDC estimates that there are approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections each year — almost half of them among young people 15 to 24 years of age.
Most infections have no symptoms and often go undiagnosed and untreated, which may lead to severe health consequences, especially for women.
Knowing your STD status is a critical step to stopping STD transmission. If you know you are infected you can take steps to protect yourself and your partners.
Many STDs can be easily diagnosed and treated. If either you or your partner is infected, both of you may need to receive treatment at the same time to avoid getting re-infected.
What puts me at risk for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs?
Risks for HIV
The most common ways HIV is transmitted in the United States is through anal or vaginal sex or sharing drug injection equipment with a person infected with HIV.
Although the risk factors for HIV are the same for everyone, some racial/ethnic, gender, and age groups are far more affected than others.
What puts me at risk for Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person. Due to routine vaccination of children, Hepatitis A has decreased dramatically in the United States.
Although anyone can get Hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk, including men who have sex with men, people who use illegal drugs, people who travel to certain international countries, and people who have sexual contact with someone who has Hepatitis A.
What puts me at risk for Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Among adults in the United States, Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact and accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute Hepatitis B cases. Hepatitis B is 50–100 times more infectious than HIV.
What puts me at risk for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.
Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to the early 1990’s. At that time, widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, which has helped ensure a safe blood supply.
Risks for Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is a common STD, and most people with genital herpes infection do not know they have it.
You can get genital herpes from an infected partner, even if your partner has no herpes symptoms. There is no cure for herpes, but medication is available to reduce symptoms and make it less likely that you will spread herpes to a sex partner.
Risks for Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is so common that most sexually active people get it at some point in their lives. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person.
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
HPV is passed on through genital contact (such as vaginal and anal sex). You can pass HPV to others without knowing it.
Risks for Chlamydia
Most people who have chlamydia don’t know it since the disease often has no symptoms. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States.
Sexually active females 25 years old and younger need testing every year. Although it is easy to cure, chlamydia can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant if left untreated.
Risks for Gonorrhea
Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea, an STD that can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24 years. But it can be easily cured.
You can get gonorrhea by having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth.
Risks for Syphilis
Any sexually active person can get syphilis. It is more common among men who have sex with men. Syphilis is passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore.
Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. A pregnant women with syphilis can give the infection to her unborn baby.
Risks for Bacterial Vaginosis
BV is common among women of childbearing age. Any woman can get BV, but women are at a higher risk for BV if they have a new sex partner, multiple sex partners, use an intrauterine device (IUD), and/or douche.
Risks for Trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis is a common STD that affects both women and men, although symptoms are more common in women.
You can get trichomoniasis by having vaginal sex with someone who has it. Women can acquire the disease from men or women, but men usually contract it only from women.
How do I protect myself and my partner(s) from HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs?
Your life matters and staying healthy is important. It’s important for you, the people who care about you, and your community.
Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information to help you take steps to keep you and your partners healthy. You should get tested for HIV, and encourage your partners to get tested too.
For people who are sexually active, there are more tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before.
The list below provides a number of ways that you can lower your chances of getting HIV. The more of these actions you take, the safer you can be.
- Get tested and treated for other STDs and encourage your partners to do the same. All adults and adolescents from ages 13-64 should be tested at least once for HIV and high-risk groups get tested more often. STDs can have long-term health consequences. They can also increase your chance of getting HIV or transmitting it to others. It is important to have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for STDs. Your healthcare provider can offer you the best care if you discuss your sexual history openly.
- Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Oral sex is much less risky than anal or vaginal sex for HIV transmission. Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for HIV transmission. If you are HIV-negative, insertive anal sex (topping) is less risky for getting HIV than receptive anal sex (bottoming). Sexual activities that do not involve the potential exchange of bodily fluids carry no risk for getting HIV (e.g., touching).
- Use condoms consistently and correctly.
- Reduce the number of people you have sex with. The number of sex partners you have affects your HIV risk. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with HIV whose viral load is not suppressed or to have a sex partner with a sexually transmitted disease. Both of these factors can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). CDC recommends that PrEP be considered for people who are HIIV-negative and at substancial risk for HIV. For sexual transmission, this includes HIIV-negative persons who are in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive partner. It also includes anyone who 1) is not in a mutually monogamous* relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and 2) is a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months; or heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (e.g., people who inject drugs or have bisexual male partners). For people who inject drugs, this includes those who have injected illicit drugs in the past 6 months and who have shared injection equipment or been in drug treatment for injection drug use in the past 6 months.
- Talk to your doctor right away (within 3 days) about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you have a possible exposure to HIV. An example of a possible exposure is if you have anal or vaginal sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive, and you are HIV-negative and not taking PrEP. Your chance of exposure to HIV is lower if your HIV-positive partner is taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly, especially if his/her viral load is undetectable (see Can I transmit HIV if I have an undetectable viral load). Starting medicine immediately (known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) and taking it daily for 4 weeks reduces your chance of getting HIV.
- If your partner is HIV-positive, encourage your partner to get and stay on treatment. ART reduces the amount of HIV virus (viral load) in blood and body fluids. ART can keep people with HIV healthy for many years, and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken consistently and correctly.
* Mutually monogamous means that you and your partner only have sex with each other and do not have sex outside the relationship.
The best way to prevent both Hepatitis A and B is by getting vaccinated. There is no vaccine available to prevent Hepatitis C.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, such as sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.
The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can do several things to lower your chances of getting an STD, including:
- Get tested for STDs and encourage your partner(s) to do the same. It is important to have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for STDs. Your healthcare provider can offer you the best care if you discuss your sexual history openly. Find an STD testing site.
- Get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe, effective, and recommended ways to prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV.
- Be in a sexually active relationship with only one person, who has agreed to be sexually active only with you.
- Reduce your number of sex partners. By doing so, you decrease your risk for STDs. It is still important that you and your partner get tested, and that you share your test results with one another.
- Use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Correct and consistent use of the male latex condomis highly effective in reducing STD transmission.
How do HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs relate to each other?
Persons who have an STD are at least two to five times more likely than uninfected persons to acquire HIV infection if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact.
In addition, if a person who is HIV positive also has an STD, that person is more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact than other HIV-infected persons.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HIV are bloodborne viruses transmitted primarily through sexual contact and injection drug use.
Because of these shared modes of transmission, a high proportion of adults at risk for HIV infection are also at risk for HBV infection.
HIV-positive persons who become infected with HBV are at increased risk for developing chronic HBV infection and should be tested.
In addition, persons who are co-infected with HIV and HBV can have serious medical complications, including an increased risk for liver-related morbidity and mortality.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States.
For persons who are HIV infected, co-infection with HCV can result in a more rapid occurrence of liver damage and may also impact the course and management of HIV infection.