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An Overview of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States today, affecting more than 14 million men and women in this country each year.

Understanding the basic facts about Sexually Transmitted Diseases
STDs affect both men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels.
STDs are most prevalent among teenagers and young adults. Almost two-thirds of all STDs occur in young people under age 25.
Most of the time, STDs cause no symptoms, particularly in women. When and if symptoms develop, they may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact. Even when an STD causes no symptoms, a person who is infected may be able to pass the disease on to a sex partner. People who have more than one sex partner should be tested or screened for STDs on a regular basis.
Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe and more frequent for women than for men, in part because STDs without symptoms are so common, that many women do not seek care until serious problems have developed.
  Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which in turn is a major cause of both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
STDs in women also may be associated with cervical cancer. One STD, human papillomavirus infection (HPV), causes genital warts and cervical and other genital cancers.
STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before, during, or immediately after birth; some of these infections of the newborn can be cured easily, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.
When diagnosed and treated early, many STDs can be treated effectively.
While many STDs can be cured, some STDs have no cure at all.

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The best way to prevent STDs is to avoid sexual contact with other people (abstinence). If you decide to be sexually active, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing an STD.

Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.
Correctly and consistently use a male condom.
Use clean needles if injecting drugs intravenously.
Prevent and control other STDs to decrease susceptibility to HIV infection and to reduce your infectiousness if you are HIV-infected.
Delay having sexual relations as long as possible. The younger people are when having sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD. The risk of acquiring an STD also increases with the number of partners over a lifetime.
Anyone who is sexually active should:
Have regular checkups for STDs even if there are no symptoms, and especially if having sex with a new partner. These tests can be done during a routine visit to the doctor's office.
Learn the common symptoms of STDs. Seek medical help immediately if any suspicious symptoms develop, even if they are mild.
Avoid anal intercourse, but if practiced, use a male condom.
Avoid douching because it removes some of the normal protective bacteria in the vagina and increases the risk of getting some STDs.
Anyone diagnosed as having an STD should:
Be treated to reduce the risk of transmitting an STD to a sex partner.
Notify all recent sex partners and urge them to get a checkup.
Follow the doctor's orders and complete the full course of medication prescribed.
Avoid all sexual activity while being treated for an STD.

Most STDs are easily treated, and the earlier a person seeks treatment and warns sex partners about the disease, the less likely the disease will do irreparable physical damage, be spread to others, or in the case of a woman, be passed on to a newborn baby.

Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

Public Health Service
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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