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Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:Condoms are the best protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). True or False?

A:False. Okay, so this was kind of a trick question. The fact of the matter is that condoms provide good, but not perfect, protection against only some STDs (also referred to as sexually transmitted infections, or STIs), especially gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and trichomoniasis. Still, condoms do not provide complete protection against all STDs. Some STDs such as herpes, HPV (genital warts) and syphilis can still be transmitted through contact with areas that are necessarily not meant to be covered by a condom. Only abstinence (the voluntary self-denial of sex) will prevent 100% of STDs, 100% of the time.

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Q:Early-stage sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) without symptoms are not contagious. True or False?

A:False. You can have an STD in the early stages with no symptoms and still pass it to another person. Many STDs don't have any symptoms in the early stages. When and if symptoms develop, they can seem like symptoms of other problems that aren't STDs, like stomach pains. This is why it is so important to get tested. Talk with health care practitioner if you have been sexually active in any way. Remember, you don't have to have symptoms to get tested for an STD.

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Q:How many people in the U.S. have genital herpes?

A:45-50 million. Believe it or not, genital herpes is a common condition affecting around 45-50 million people in the United States. Meanwhile it is estimated that some 60% of sexually active adults carry the herpes virus.

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Q:Hand-foot-mouth disease is an STD. True or False?

A:False. Hand-foot-mouth disease is not known to be sexually transmitted. Ectoparasitic infections are infections that are caused by tiny parasitic bugs (such as lice) or mites (such as scabies). Urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) begins with a burning sensation during urination and a thick or watery discharge. Chancroid starts out as a tender bump that emerges 3 to10 days (the incubation period) after the sexual exposure. The cells that form the bump then begin to die, and the bump becomes an ulcer (an open sore) that is usually painful.

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Q:Gonorrhea is contracted sexually and from public or shared toilet seats. True or False?

A:False. Gonorrhea, one of the oldest known STDs, is a bacterial infection caused by the organism Neisseria gonorrheae and is sexually transmitted. Gonorrhea cannot be transmitted from toilet seats or door handles. The bacterium that causes gonorrhea requires very specific conditions for growth and reproduction and cannot live outside the body for more than a few seconds or minutes, nor can it live on the skin of the hands, arms, or legs. It survives only on moist surfaces within the body and is found most commonly in the vagina, and, more commonly, the cervix. Gonorrheal infection of the Fallopian tubes can lead to a serious, painful infection of the pelvis known as pelvic inflammatory disease or PID.

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Q:Left untreated, which STD can cause deafness and death in its later stages?

A:Syphilis. There are three stages of syphilis, the first of which is formation of an ulcer (chancre). Secondary syphilis is a systemic stage of the disease, meaning that it can involve various organ systems of the body and can cause hair loss, sore throat, white patches in the nose, mouth and vagina, fever, and headaches. Tertiary (third) stage syphilis can cause a variety of problems throughout the body including heart problems, brain infection, weakness, deafness, and death.

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Q:Which of the following is a possible symptom of an STD?

A:Bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, or vagina, painful urination, and painful sex. Sometimes, there are no symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease. If symptoms are present, they may include one or more of the following: bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, penis, or vagina; swelling or redness near the penis or vagina; skin rash; painful urination, weight loss, loose stools, or night sweats; aches, pains, fever, and chills; penile or vaginal discharge; vaginal bleeding other than a monthly period; painful sex, and severe itching near the penis or vagina.

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Q:What STDs are caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis?

A:Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) and orchitis, epididymitis, urethritis, and chlamydia. These are some scary, perhaps little known diseases and complications of the bacterium that causes chlamydia. Lymphogranuloma venereum is an uncommon genital or anorectal (affecting the anus and/or rectum) disease that can cause genital ulcers, while orchitis (inflammation of the tube connecting the urethra and the testicles) and epididymitis are testicular disorders. Urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) in men begins with a burning sensation during urination and a thick or watery discharge that drips from the opening at the end of the penis. Infection without symptoms is common. The most common causes of urethritis are the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhea and Chlamydia trachomatis.

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Q:Hepatitis C is not usually a sexually transmitted infection. True or False?

A:True. Hepatitis C is liver inflammation (hepatitis) that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The HCV causes acute and chronic viral C hepatitis. Unlike hepatitis B, however, hepatitis C is infrequently transmitted sexually, so it is an unusual STI (STD). It is primarily spread by exposure to infected blood, such as from sharing needles for drug use, piercing, tattooing, and occasionally sharing nasal straws for cocaine use.

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Q:What is a tumor associated with HIV-infected men?

A:Kaposi's sarcoma. Human herpes virus 8 is a virus first identified in the 1990s that has been associated with Kaposi's sarcoma and possibly with a type of cancer called body cavity lymphoma (a tumor that arises from the lymph tissue). Kaposi's sarcoma is an unusual skin tumor that is seen primarily in HIV-infected men. Human herpes virus 8 has also been isolated in the semen of HIV-infected individuals. Because of these factors, the possibility has been raised that human herpes virus 8 is a sexually transmitted infection (STD, STI).

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Q:How many people in the U.S. are living with HIV?

A:About 1 million. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) has killed more than 25 million people since 1981. That's about half as many deaths as in World War II and it's not over. 1.1 million Americans are among the 33 million people now living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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Q:Condoms do not fully protect against the spread of AIDS. True or False?

A:True. Condoms are commonly thought to protect against STDs. Condoms are useful in decreasing the spread of certain infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea; however, they do not fully protect against other infections such as genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and AIDS. Prevention of the spread of STDs is dependent upon the counseling of at-risk individuals and the early diagnosis and treatment of infections.

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Q:Kissing is the safest sexual activity. True or False?

A:False. Most people think that kissing is a safe activity. Unfortunately, syphilis, herpes, and other infections can be contracted through this relatively simple and apparently harmless act.

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