Sexually Transmitted Infections

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection that is spread from one person to another through sexual contact. Most STIs are caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, that are transmitted through contact with the genitals, skin, mouth, rectum, or bodily fluids. There are many different types of viruses that are characterized as STIs, some of which include:

  • Genital Herpes
  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • HIV
  • HPV
  • Condyloma
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis

STIs can cause problems ranging from mild irritation to severe pain. Left untreated, some STIs can cause illness, cancer, infertility or harm to a fetus during pregnancy.

Causes of Sexually Transmitted Infections

STIs are caused by a bacterial or viral infection that is spread through sexual contact. People who may have a higher risk of contacting an STI includes those who:

  • Engage in unprotected sex
  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Are already infected with an STI
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Share needles for drug use or tattoos

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Most sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms at all, especially in women, so some people may not even know they have been infected with an STI. Other symptoms may vary depending on the specific type of STI and may include:

  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Sores or blisters on the genitals
  • Warts or growths on the genitals
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosis of Sexually Transmitted Infections

A sexually transmitted infections can be diagnosed by a doctor after a physical examination and review of symptoms. Additional tests may include taking a sample of genital fluids or a culture of swabbed specimens to detect the presence of an STI. Additional tests may include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests

Periodic STI testing is recommended for anyone with multiple sexual partners, even if they are having protected sex.

Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Treatment for STIs may vary depending on the specific diagnosis. Although many STIs cannot be cured, there is medication available to treat and manage symptoms. Some STIs can be treated with antibiotics to clear the infection or medication to prevent flare-ups of symptoms. The HIV virus is commonly treated with a combination of antiretroviral drugs. In some cases, as with condyloma, genital warts may be removed through surgical methods.

Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections may be prevented by avoiding risky sexual behavior. STIs may be avoided by:

  • Abstaining from sexual activity
  • Using condoms for all sexual activity
  • Remaining in a monogamous relationship
  • Not sharing needles

There is currently a vaccination available for certain strains of the HPV virus. Two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing persistent infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which cause most cases of condyloma or genital warts. Both vaccines are effective for females between the ages of 9 and 26 and the Gardasil vaccine is effective for males between the ages of 9 and 26. These vaccinations are administered as three separate injections over the course of six months.

STIs are serious infections that can cause lifelong or recurring symptoms and side effects. It is important for all patients to practice safe sex and get tested often.

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