Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) refer to conditions passed between two people during sexual contact; there are also some cases where STDs may be transmitted through non-sexual contact such as breastfeeding or needles. Though it can often feel like a taboo topic — if you’re sexually active, discussing sexually transmitted disease prevention with your doctor is important for your health.
STDs affect all groups no matter of sexual preference or orientation. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. had a sexually transmitted infection at some point in 2018. Though stigma would have us believe the number would be much lower, STDs are very common. The good news? Many of these diseases can be cured with proper treatment.
Common symptoms of STDs
STDs do not always have noticeable symptoms, but certain symptoms are common indicators that you may have an infection. Specific infections may also have additional symptoms.
Common STD symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort during sex or urination
- Sores, bumps, or rashes on or around the pelvic area, mouth, thighs, etc.
- Unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis or vagina
- Painful or swollen testicles
- Itchiness in or around the vaginal area
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your primary care doctor or local health care facility and make an appointment to get tested. If you’re a Priority Health member, testing may be covered as part of your preventive care services. Check your plan options in the Member app to learn more. Not a Priority Health member? Check with your health plan provider to see what’s covered as part of preventive care. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Family Planning Program also offers free or low-cost testing options statewide here.
Common types of STDs
There are many different types of diseases that can be transmitted sexually, but some of the most common ones are:
- Chlamydia: The most commonly reported STD in the U.S. Chlamydia is caused by a certain type of bacteria, and can be treated with antibiotics.
- Herpes: The shortened name for the herpes simplex virus (HSV), this very common STD has two strains; HSV-1, which primarily causes oral herpes, and HSV-2, which primarily causes genital herpes. The most common symptom is blistery sores around the mouth (HSV-1) or around he genitals (HSV-2). These sores usually occur in small outbreaks and will heal within a few weeks; outbreaks get less painful and frequent as time passes. There is currently no cure for herpes, but treatments are available to help make outbreaks less painful.
- Syphilis: Another bacterial infection that is first presented through a small, painless sore on the genitals or mouth. Syphilis can have severe symptoms such as loss of sight or hearing and mental illness if left untreated, so early detection is essential. When caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics.
- Gonorrhea: Another bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact. Gonorrhea can usually be treated with antibiotics.
- Pubic lice: Also known as crabs, pubic lice occurs when tiny insects who feed on human blood begin to reside in your pubic hair. This will often lead to itchiness and red bumps and can be transmitted to other people, as well as onto towels, bedding and other surfaces skin may touch. Pubic lice can be treated with topical over the counter treatments.
- HPV (human papillomavirus): A virus passed through sexual contact with various strains. Some of these strains can lead to cervical cancer; there is an HPV vaccine to prevent this that is highly recommended. Though there is no treatment for HPV, the infection often clears up on its own.
- HIV: A virus that often mimics flu symptoms in the early stages. If left untreated, HIV may lead to stage three HIV, known as AIDs. However, most infections today are detected and very few people develop AIDs. Though there is no cure for HIV currently, early and effective treatment can help those with HIV live as long as those without HIV and reduce risk of passing the virus to a sexual partner.
Treatment and prevention of STDs
When caught early and treated properly, many sexually transmitted diseases can be cured or effectively managed. Leaving STDs untreated can lead to greater spread and more severe reactions.
It is essential to get tested regularly if you are sexually active; most doctors can screen you during your annual physical, or you can set up a quick appointment to get tested with your primary care provider or at a local health organization. Remember to check with your health insurance provider to see what type of testing and treatment is covered as part of your plan. Or, check with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Family Planning Program here.
A few simple steps can also help you prevent STDs from developing:
- Use protection. Barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams can prevent many infections from being passed from person to person and are one of the most effective ways to prevent STDs.
- Talk to your partner about your sexual history. Any time you become sexually active with a new partner, have an honest conversation about your sexual history. This can help you make the best decision about methods for protection and keep you informed in case you develop symptoms.
- Get tested regularly. Many STDs don’t present symptoms, so it’s important to get tested regularly to make sure you’re not carrying anything unknowingly. Talk to your primary care provider about incorporating this into your annual visit and be sure to get tested after each new partner.
Though not always the most comfortable topic of conversation, STDs are very common and affect millions of Americans each year. Talk to your doctor and take action on this important part of your overall health. For more information, visit the CDC’s STD website.