Exposure to Sexually Transmitted Infections
Aside from colds and the flu, Reference sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Opens New Window 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 Reference genitals Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window, 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 (STDs).
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 Reference human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) Opens New Window. 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. Reference STI testing can help find problems early on so that treatment can begin if needed. It is important to Reference practice safer sex with all partners, especially if you or they have Reference high-risk sexual behaviors. See the Reference Prevention section of this topic.
If you think you may have symptoms of an STI:
- Do not have sexual contact or activity while waiting for your appointment. This will prevent the spread of the infection.
- Women should not douche. Douching changes the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina. Douching may flush an infection up into your uterus or fallopian tubes and cause Reference pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) Opens New Window.
Common sexually transmitted infections
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:
- Reference Chlamydia Opens New Window.
- Reference Genital herpes Opens New Window.
- Reference Genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV) Opens New Window. Certain high-risk types of HPV can cause Reference cervical cancer Opens New Window in women.
- Reference Gonorrhea Opens New Window.
- Reference Hepatitis B Opens New Window.
- Reference Syphilis Opens New Window.
- Reference Trichomoniasis Opens New Window.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. Having other STIs, such as genital herpes, can increase your risk of HIV.
- Other infections that may be sexually transmitted. These include Reference hepatitis A Opens New Window, Reference cytomegalovirus Opens New Window, Reference molluscum contagiosum Opens New Window, Mycoplasma genitalium, Reference hepatitis C Opens New Window, and possibly Reference bacterial vaginosis Opens New Window.
- Reference Scabies Opens New Window and Reference pubic lice Opens New Window, which can be spread by sexual contact.
Bacterial Reference 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 past.
Sexually active teens and young adults
Sexually 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:
- Have unprotected sex.
- Engage in Reference high-risk sexual behaviors.
- Have partners who have high-risk sexual behaviors.
- Sexually active teens and young adults:
- Ages 15 to 24 years old get almost half of all new STIs each year.
- Have the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea.
- About 1 out of 5 women and 1 out of 9 men get genital herpes, and it is more common in women than in men.
- As many as half of all sexually active men and women have been infected with genital types of human papillomavirus (HPV) at some time in their lives.
- Syphilis rates have increased.
- New HIV infections have increased in people ages 13 to 29.
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 prevent complications.
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 Reference talk with your teen about safer sex, preventing STIs, and being evaluated and treated for STIs.
Risks specific to women with sexually transmitted infections
In women, STIs can cause a serious infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes (Reference reproductive organs Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window) called Reference pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) Opens New Window. PID may cause scar tissue that blocks the fallopian tubes, leading to Reference infertility Opens New Window, Reference ectopic pregnancy Opens New Window, Reference pelvic abscess Opens New Window, or Reference chronic pelvic pain Opens New Window.
STIs in pregnant women may cause problems such as:
- Reference Miscarriage Opens New Window.
- Low birth weight.
- Premature delivery.
- Infections in their newborn baby, such as Reference pneumonia Opens New Window, eye infections, or nervous system problems.
Risks specific to men with sexually transmitted infections
- Infection and inflammation of the Reference epididymis Opens New Window, Reference urethra Opens New Window, anus, and Reference prostate Opens New Window
Any child or Reference vulnerable adult Opens New Window with Reference symptoms of an STI Opens New Window needs to be evaluated by a health professional to determine the cause and to assess for possible sexual Reference abuse.
If you have symptoms of an STI or have been exposed to an STI whether by oral, anal, or vaginal sexual activity, Reference check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 7, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Reference H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine