Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are either  bacterial or viral infections that can be contracted through any sexual activity: oral, anal and vaginal intercourse.

Bacterial infections are treatable and curable. 

Viral infections are treatable, but not curable. 

STIs have become common for people who are sexually active. In fact, two-thirds of STIs occur in those under the age of 25. Research findings state that only one-third of infected people talk about their sexual health issues with their partner(s), however many people don't even know they are infected. 

Postponing sex is the only 100% way of preventing the spread of STIs. Both partners should be tested prior to engaging in sexual activity. Barrier methods should, then, be used for vaginal, anal and oral sex, whether the person is diagnosed with an infection or not, to ensure safety from an undetectable infection, although protection is not guaranteed.  Using barrier methods properly will increase the chances of effectiveness.

Please select from the following list to learn more:

Bacterial Vaginosis (bacterial)

Bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is not a "classic" STI, is caused by an imbalance in the bacteria normally found in the vagina, and affects only women. While it is not certain that sexual activity causes BV, it is clear that having BV increases a woman's chances of contracting an STI.

Prevalence: Studies show that bacterial vaginosis is common in women of reproductive age and as many as 29 percent of women aged 14 - 49 in the United States are infected with BV.

Symptoms: Women with BV often have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor.  Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after intercourse or when washing the vulva with soap.  The discharge is usually white or gray and can be thin.  Women with BV may also have burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both.  Some women with BV report no signs or symptoms at all. 

Treatment: BV is treatable with antimicrobial medicines (orally and vaginally) prescribed by a health care provider.  Two different medicines are recommended as treatment for BV: metronidazole or clindamycin.  Metronidazole cannot be taken with alcohol or it will cause extreme sickness, so read the directions of your medication carefully. 

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Chlamydia (bacterial)

The most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, chlamydia also classifies as one of the most dangerous sexually transmitted infections among women today.  The disease is particularly common among teens and young adults.  Genital chlamydia is the leading cause of preventable infertility and ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when the fertilized egg implants in tissue outside of the uterus and the placenta and fetus begin to develop there.  Because many chlamydia infections are asymptomatic and probably chronic, widespread screening with appropriate treatment is necessary to control this infection.

Prevalence: An estimated twenty million NEW people contract chlamydia each year.

Symptoms: Chlamydia can be considered a "silent" epidemic of sorts because three quarters of women and half of men with the disease have no symptoms.  Possible symptoms include discharge from the penis or vagina and a burning sensation when urinating.  Additional symptoms for women include lower abdominal pain or pain during intercourse and bleeding between menstrual periods.  More advanced symptoms, which indicate development of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), include cramps, pain, bleeding between menstrual periods, vomiting or fever.  Men may experience burning and itching around the opening of the penis and/or pain and swelling in the testicles.

Treatment: The most commonly used treatments are a single dose of azithromycin or a week of doxycycline.  Common side effects of these treatments include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.  If someone has chlamydia, all of their sexual partners should get tested and then treated if infected, whether or not they have symptoms of infection.

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Crabs or Pubic Lice (bacterial)

Crabs (also known as pubic lice) are small parasites that feed on human blood.  Crabs are not the same as head and body lice. They are usually found on the pubic hair, but can also be found on other parts of the body where a person has coarse hair (such as armpits, eyelashes, and facial hair). Crabs rarely infest head hair. 

Anyone can get crabs.  Having crabs does not mean a person is unclean or dirty. A person can get crabs during sexual contact with an infected person.  During the close physical contact, the crabs can move from the pubic hair of one person to the pubic hair of another.  Crabs can be sexually transmitted even if there is no penetration or exchange of body fluids.  Once detached from a human host, crabs can live for 24 hours, making it possible to get crabs during contact with infested bedding or clothing.

Symptoms: The most noticeable symptom of crabs is itching.  The itching usually starts about 5 days after a person contracts the infection. 

Treatments: There are several treatments for crabs.  Some treatments require a prescription, while others do not.  A person does not have to shave off his or her pubic hair to get rid of crabs. 

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Gonorrhea (bacterial)

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial disease. The bacteria that cause this disease can affect the genital tract, mouth and rectum.  Gonorrhea remains a major cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility and tubal pregnancies in women.  This disease can facilitate HIV transmission.

Prevalence: It is the second most commonly reported STI. Rates are variable depending on geographic area, gender, race/ethnicity, and other factors.

Symptoms: The early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild.  Symptoms usually appear within two to ten days after sexual contact with an infected partner.  A small number of people may be infected for several months without showing symptoms. 

When women have symptoms, the first ones include:

  • bleeding associated with vaginal intercourse;
  • a painful or burning sensation when urinating; and/or
  • vaginal discharge that is yellow or bloody.

More advanced symptoms, which indicate development of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), include cramps, pain, bleeding between menstrual periods, vomiting or fever.

Men have symptoms more often than women.  Symptoms include:

  • white, yellow, or green discharges from the penis,
  • painful or swollen testicles,
  • a burning sensation during urination that may be severe.

Symptoms of rectal infection include discharge, anal itching, and occasional painful bowel movements with fresh blood on the feces.

Treatment: Health care providers usually prescribe a single dose of one of several antibiotics.  However if the infection is complicated, more than one antibiotic and hospitalization may be necessary.  If someone has gonorrhea, all of their sexual partners should get tested, regardless of the absence of symptoms. 

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Hepatitis B (viral)

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a viral disease that attacks the liver and can cause extreme illness and even death. In some people, the infection resolves itself and the virus is cleared, while others may remain chronically infected after the symptoms of the infection have subsided.  People who are chronically infected with HBV face an increased risk of developing liver disease, including scarring and liver cancer. Symptoms of Hepatitis B can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to emerge.

Prevalence: About five percent of the U.S. population (one out of every 20 people) has ever been infected with Hepatitis B, with an estimated 200,000 infections occurring each year.  About 417,000 people are currently living with chronic sexually acquired HBV infection.

Symptoms: Although 50 percent of Hepatitis B cases carry no symptoms, the other half of those infected often experience fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.  When infected with HBV, many people think they have the flu and do not attribute their symptoms to HBV infection.  A very small number, about one percent, develop a life-threatening acute form of hepatitis from the virus.  These people may suddenly collapse with fatigue, have yellowing of the skin and eyes and develop swelling in their abdomen.

Treatment: Hepatitis B is a preventable disease!  There is a safe and effective vaccine against hepatitis B, and you can protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated.  The current vaccine is made from yeast and is one of the safest vaccines available.

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Herpes

More than 80 known viruses exist within the herpes family. Of these, eight are known to cause disease in humans, the most common being herpes simplex virus 1 and 2. 

HSV-1 and HSV-2 look identical under the microscope, and either type can infect the mouth or genitals.  Usually, however, HSV-1 occurs above the waist and HSV-2 below the waist.  Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) commonly causes cold sores or fever blisters, which are highly infectious open sores that crust over before healing.  Although less probable, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes.  Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), on the other hand, is a contagious viral infection primarily causing genital herpes in men and women.  Once contracted, herpes is a lifelong disease.

Prevalence: More than one in six Americans - aged 14 - 49 - are infected with genital herpes. There is some indication that diagnoses of herpes are decreasing; however, it is also suspected that many people are still unaware that they have herpes because they are not getting tested for the virus.

Symptoms: Recurrent painful ulcers are a common symptom of herpes.  Most people with herpes have no symptoms and are unaware of their infection.  The telltale signs and symptoms of genital herpes include recurrent clusters of blisters, bumps, and rashes in the genital areas.  Blister "flares" are unpredictable and have been attributed to everything from stress to certain types of food to sun exposure to sunlight. The first outbreak is usually the worst, with most future outbreaks decreasing in intensity over time.

Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no cure for genital herpes - once someone has it, they have it for life. Even when dormant, someone can transmit herpes to a partner through skin to skin contact and what is called "viral shedding." Researchers are working on many fronts that may lead to improved diagnosis and better ways to manage the disease.  Meanwhile, some prescription drugs and various therapeutic methods have been proven effective in reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of outbreaks.

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HIV/AIDS (viral)

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

  • Acquired means you can get infected with it.
  • Immune Deficiency means a weakness in the body's system that fights diseases.
  • Syndrome means a group of health problems in the body's system that make up a disease.

AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  Being HIV positive is not the same as having full-blown AIDS.  Many people are HIV-positive, but may not develop AIDS for many years.  As HIV disease progresses to full-blown AIDS, the immune system gets weaker, allowing viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria, that usually don't cause serious health risk in the average person, to cause opportunistic infections and make the HIV-positive person very sick.

Prevalence: In the U.S., rates of new infection have been increasing among those aged 20 - 29 years of age. All other age groups experienced stability or decreases in recent years.

Symptoms: Some people develop symptoms shortly after being infected.  On average, it takes more than 7-10 years to develop symptoms.  There are several stages of HIV.  The first symptom of HIV is often swollen lymph glands in the throat, armpit, or groin.  Some other early symptoms include slight fever, headaches, fatigue and muscle aches.  They may only last for a few weeks.  Then, there are usually no symptoms for many years.

Treatment: There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, although there are a variety of new treatments and medication cocktails that help people manage the disease and maintain their health.

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Human Papillomavirus (viral)

Health experts estimate that there are more cases of genital HPV than any other STI in the United States.  HPV sometimes causes genital warts, but, in many cases, it infects people without causing noticeable symptoms.  HPV is likely the most common STI among young, sexually active people.  There are more than 30 distinct types of HPV that can infect the genital area.  Concern about HPV has increased in recent years because some types of HPV infection may cause cervical cancer.

Prevalence: About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.

Symptoms: Genital warts (condylomata acuminata or venereal warts) are the most easily recognized sign of genital HPV infection.  Many people, however, have a genital HPV infection without genital warts.  Genital warts are very contagious and are spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner.  In women, most HPV infections are asymptomatic and only picked up by a Pap test of the cervix.

Treatment: Genital warts often disappear even without treatment.  In other cases, they eventually may develop a fleshy, small raised growth that looks like cauliflower.  There is no way to predict whether the warts will grow or disappear.  Therefore, if someone suspects they have genital warts, they should be examined and treated, if necessary.  Depending on factors such as the size and location of the genital warts, a doctor will offer one of several ways to treat them, including trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and various topical creams.  HPV infections of the cervix, if associated with a high-grade squamous epithelial lesion (HGSEL) of the cervix, are treated by cutting away, freezing, or otherwise destroying the abnormal cells.

However, the best treatment is prevention. It is recommended that all boys and girls should be vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated at an earlier age.

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Scabies (bacterial)

Scabies is a curable skin disease caused by a parasite.  It is transmitted through close physical contact with a person who is infected or has had prolonged contact with infested linens, furniture, or clothing. A person is considered infectious from the time of infestation until treatment is successfully completed.

Symptoms: The most common symptom is itching, which usually occurs within 4 to 6 weeks after infection.  Symptoms will begin within 1 to 4 days in a person who has been infected with scabies before.

Treatment: Scabies is treated with a lotion that kills lice and similar microorganisms.  In addition to treating the body, it's important to treat any bedding, towels, and clothing that the infected person used in the two days before treatment.  All items need to be washed in hot water (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes - the hot water cycle) and dried in a hot dryer.

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Syphilis (bacterial)

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that progresses in stages. The disease is curable and its progression is preventable, but if untreated, it can cause heart disease, neurological problems, and blindness.  Syphilis causes genital ulcers, which increases the likelihood of sexual HIV transmission.

Prevalence: In the U.S., after decades of significant decreases in syphilis diagnoses, recent rates of syphilis have been increasing, particularly among men. Since 2011, rates have increased 12.1% from 13,970 to 15,667 reported cases.

Symptoms: A myriad of symptoms can occur during various stages of this disease.  Early symptoms can range from a single chancre sore to a rash on the body that does not itch.  Other symptoms are fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, weight loss, hair loss, muscle aches and fatigue.

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Trichomoniasis (bacterial)

Trichomoniasis, an infection that affects both men and women, is caused by a microscopic parasite.

Prevalence: An estimated five million cases of trichomoniasis occur each year in the United States.

Symptoms: Approximately 70% of people do not show signs or symptoms when they are infected with  trichomoniasis. Some people experience symptoms within five to twenty-eight days of infection, and those symptoms can come and go.

For those men with trichomoniasis, they typically experience an irritation inside the penis, mild discharge, or slight burning after urination or ejaculation. In women, trichomoniasis causes a frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge with a strong odor. The infection may also cause discomfort during intercourse and urination. Irritation and itching of the female genital area and, in rare cases, lower abdominal pain can also occur.

Treatment: Trichomoniasis usually can be cured with an antibiotic given by mouth in a single dose.  Partners should be treated at the same time to eliminate the parasite and to prevent recurrence.  Persons being treated for trichomoniasis should avoid sex until they and their sex partners complete treatment and have no symptoms.

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Urinary Tract Infection (bacterial)

While this is not considered a "classic" STI that is transmitted from one person to another during sex, a urinary tract infection (UTI) or bladder infection is a common byproduct of sexual activity that, if not treated, can lead to hospitalization and kidney damage. Many women will often mistake symptoms of an STI for a UTI.

UTIs are more common in women than in men, mostly because of anatomy.  In women the urethra is located directly above the vaginal opening, and is susceptible to being exposed to bacteria and becoming irritated during intercourse.  If the infection isn't treated while the bacteria are in the urethra and bladder, bacteria can travel to the kidneys and cause an infection there.

Symptoms: Symptoms of UTIs mimic symptoms of some STIs - painful, burning urination, urgency to urinate, or yellowish or bloody discharge from the urethra.  If the infection has spread further up and into the kidneys, symptoms include fatigue, high fever, and lower back pain.

Treatment:  If someone is experiencing any symptoms, a simple in-office urine test can tell their health care provider exactly what type of antibiotic to prescribe.  Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol, which can irritate the bladder, are recommended while being treated.  If the infection reaches the kidneys, they may have to be hospitalized to receive IV antibiotics for several days.

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Wake Up Call, Villanova!

Most sexually active Villanova students report having only one sexual partner in the last year (Villanova National College Health Assessment Survey, 2013).