Bacteria, viruses, and parasites cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Data show that STIs are particularly common in young people aged 15 to 24 years; however, the infections can occur in sexually active people of all ages. They are most commonly passed on during vaginal, anal, and oral sexual contact; however, some STIs can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. In addition, people who share intravenous needles can transmit certain STIs. Because many STIs have no symptoms, it’s possible to have, spread, and get an STI without knowing it. For this reason, it’s important to be screened regularly to protect your health and the health of your partners if you are sexually active.
Many STIs can cause serious health problems such as cervical cancer, liver disease, infertility, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if they are not treated. STIs in pregnant women also can cause serious health problems for unborn children. Having herpes, syphilis, trichomoniasis, and chancroid can increase the chances of getting the human immunosuppressive virus (HIV) if you are exposed to it.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for many STIs. For example, vaccines can protect against viral STIs such as hepatitis B and some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain bacterial and parasitic STIs can be treated with antibiotics and other medicines. Although there are no cures for viral STIs, some of the infections can be managed with medication.
If you think you might have an STI, contact your physician immediately. He or she will test you and decide what treatment is best for you. Ask how often you should have a pelvic examination and whether STI screening should be part of your annual physical and gynecologic examination.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. http://www.cdc.gov/STD/. Accessed March 17, 2010.