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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

What are STDs?

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. Some of the most common STDs include syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, genital warts, hepatitis B, vaginitis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV--the virus that causes AIDS). STDs are spread through contact with body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, and blood) and/or direct contact with infected skin. Therefore, if you have sex with an infected person, you can get an STD. If you have an STD while you're pregnant, you may even pass it to your baby. Each year, approximately 12 million Americans become infected with some kind of STD.

How can I tell if I have an STD?

Each STD affects the body in a slightly different way, but the following symptoms are general warning signs for STDs:

  • Burning or pain during urination;
  • Sores, bumps, or blisters on or near the genitals;
  • Unusual discharge from the penis/vagina;
  • Itching in or around the sex organs;
  • Abdominal pain, fever, chills, night sweats, or swollen glands.

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. But beware! Some infected people never develop any signs of an STD. So even if you have no symptoms, contact your doctor right away if you think that you have been exposed to an STD. STDs left untreated can lead to sterility, cancer, and other medical problems.

Who needs to be concerned about STDs?

Any sexually active person can get an STD. People who exchange sex for money or drugs, people who have had more than one sex partner, and people who use injection drugs are at increased risk for getting an STD.

What can I do to prevent STDs?

  • Limit sex partners: The safest behavior is to avoid having sex. If you do have sex, maintain a relationship with just one partner who does not have an STD, and make sure he/she limits sexual contact to only you. Remember, though, that the more partners you and your partner have had in the past, the more likely it is that one of you got an STD before you even met.
  • Use latex condoms with spermicide: When used correctly, latex condoms can prevent the passage of STDs. Read the directions, use only water-based lubricants (oil-based products like Vaseline can make condoms break), and never re-use a condom or use one past the expiration date. Condoms with spermicide (nonoxynol 9) offer extra protection against HIV.
  • Don't share needles: If you share injection drug needles with people who have certain STDs, you can also become infected.

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