Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are generally acquired by sexual contact. The organisms which cause sexually transmitted diseases may be passed from person to person in blood, semen, vaginal or other bodily fluids.
Sometimes these infections can be transmitted through nonsexual routes. One such route is from an infected mother to her newborn. This is called a transverse infection.
People who are infected with STIs usually appear healthy and may have vague symptoms or none at all, so are often unaware they are infectious to others.
Untreated STIs can cause serious complications such as:
- Infertility and damage to reproductive organs
- Serious illness or even death in newborn infants
- Brain, heart and joint damage
- Eye (vision) loss or hearing loss
Untreated STIs can sometimes cause complications leading to death of the infected person.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can have a range of signs and symptoms which may be subtle or vague or there may be no symptoms as all. They may go unnoticed until complications occur or a partner is diagnosed with an infection.
Signs and symptoms that might indicate a STI include:
- Unusual smell, discharge, burning or itching in the vaginal area
- Bleeding (not associated with a menstrual period)
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
- Bumps, blisters or sores in the mouth, genital area or anal area
- Swelling or lump in the groin area which may be sore or tender
- Pus or other discharge from the penis or “dripping” of clear or cloudy fluid
- Burning or pain during urination or with a bowel movement
- Itching sensation inside the penis
- Rash over the trunk, hands or feet
Signs and symptoms may appear as soon as a few days after exposure to weeks or months but for some infections, it may take years before you have any noticeable problems.
When to see a health care provider
See a health care provider immediately if:
- You are sexually active and may have been exposed to an STI
- You have signs and symptoms of an STI
Make an appointment with a health care provider:
- When you consider becoming sexually active or when you're 21, whichever comes first
- Before you start having sex with a new partner ( be sure your partner is checked as well)
- To discuss receiving vaccines which help prevent certain STIs such as HPV (Genital Wart Virus) if you are not already vaccinated
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the most common curable vaginal infections. It occurs when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted.
Chlamydia is a common curable STD that can infect both men and women. It may cause serious, permanent damage to a woman's reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus).
Gonorrhea infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in women and men. It can also infect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, eyes, and rectum. It is curable.
Genital Herpes Most people who have genital herpes do not know they have it. Symptoms include painful genital ulcers that can be severe and persistent in persons with suppressed immune systems, such as HIV-infected persons. Genital Herpes can infect the genital area as well as the mouth and anal areas of males and females.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD in the United States. There are over 40 different types of genital HPV. HPV infects the genital area as well as the mouth, throat and anus of males and females. There is a vaccine available to prevent many types of HPV.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and other reproductive organs in women.
Syphilis is a curable condition that can cause long-term complications if not treated correctly. The painless syphilis sore or “chancre” that appears when first infected can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. Many times no symptoms are noticed. Learn more about the stages of syphilis and the signs and symptoms.
Trichomoniasis (or "trich") is a very common and curable STD. Most infected people do not have any signs or symptoms. When trichomoniasis does cause symptoms, they can range from mild irritation to severe inflammation. Symptoms are more prevalent in women than men.
Get Tested: Getting tested for STDs is an important first step to getting treatment and protecting your partners. Your doctor, nurse, or health care clinic listed in the telephone directory can provide you with more information or you can search for a health care provider here. Find testing locations or search for a testing location by zip code.
HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): People with or at risk for sexually transmitted infections are at increased risk for HIV acquisition. HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may help prevent you from getting HIV. To learn more about HIV PrEP, please click here. You can also download a fact sheet on PrEP from the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse.
Getting married? Since 2005, Massachusetts does not require a blood test for syphilis in order to get married. Click here for additional information on requirements for getting married in Massachusetts.