Get the Lowdown on STIs

Sexually Transmitted Infections are caused by certain bacteria, viruses, or parasites that are spread by sexual activity.  They don’t all act the same—so treatments are tailored to each. Having an STI doesn’t make someone “dirty” or a “bad person”. There are often no symptoms, so someone could have or pass on an infection without even knowing it.

It’s estimated that youth ages 15–24 make up half of the 20 million new sexually-transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year.

Chlamydia (klah MIH dee ah)

Chlamydia is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is caused by a bacteria, so it can easily be cured with antibiotics.

  • Symptoms: Most people have no symptoms.
  • Risks: May cause a serious and painful infection that may lead to hospitalization. Both men and women can lose the ability to have children. It can easily spread it to someone else without anyone knowing.
  • Treatment: can be as easy as 2 pills.  However, in some cases, healthcare providers might prescribe a week’s worth of antibiotics.  Infection will be clear within 7 days, but sexual activity should be avoided during this time to prevent spreading chlamydia to anyone else.
  • Read more about Chlamydia on CDC.gov

Gonorrhea (gahn ah REE ah)

Gonorrhea is a common STI, especially among those ages 15-24. It is caused by a bacteria; it can usually be cured with antibiotics.

  • Symptoms: Most people have no symptoms.
  • Risks: May cause a serious and painful infection that may lead to hospitalization. Both men and women can lose the ability to have children. It can easily spread it to someone else without anyone knowing.
  • Treatment: can be as easy as 2 pills and a shot.  However, in some cases, healthcare providers might prescribe a week’s worth of antibiotics.  Infection will be clear within 7 days, but sexual activity should be avoided during this time to prevent spreading gonorrhea to anyone else.
  • Read more about Gonorrhea on CDC.gov

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

HPV is the most common STI in the United States. For many people it goes away on its own, but for some it can cause other health problems. It is caused by a virus.

  • Symptoms: Most people who get HPV never develop symptoms or know they are infected. Some people find out about the infection if they develop genital warts.
  • Risks: Some strains of the virus can cause genital warts or cancer later in life.
  • Treatment: HPV is not curable with medication. However, some strains that can cause health problems are preventable with a vaccine. Both men and women can and should get this vaccine, so talk to a healthcare provider.
  • Read more about HPV on CDC.gov

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a virus that attacks the immune system. It is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It is spread through sexual activity, but can also be spread other ways, such as sharing needles.

  • Symptoms: Most have no symptoms and can go a long time without knowing they are infected. Symptoms may include: flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or mouth sores) 2-4 weeks after infection. The only way to know for sure is by getting tested.
  • Risks: If left untreated, HIV can progress into AIDS more quickly. Those who have HIV/AIDS and do not treat it have a suppressed immune system and are more susceptible to infection, or get sick more easily. People with HIV/AIDS who don’t know they have it can spread it to others.
  • Treatment: There is no cure. Current medications can allow people with HIV to live long, healthy lives. It is important to get tested early to start treatment as soon as possible and avoid spreading the infection to anyone else.
  • Exposure and prevention:  If you think you have been — or will be — exposed to HIV (for example if you’ve had sexual activity with someone who is positive) there are drugs that can reduce your risk of becoming infected if taken within 72 hours of exposure. These drugs are not 100% guaranteed, so always use a condom. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for more information. PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis can has been shown to reduce the risk of infection in people over 18.
  • Read more about HIV on CDC.gov

Genital Herpes (HER peez)

Herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by two types of viruses, herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2.

  • Symptoms: Outbreaks of blisters on the external genitalia that turn into painful open sores. If possible seek medical attention while the sore is still present to test for the virus.
  • Risks: Though the blisters and sores will go away, they can come back. While not life threatening, it is possible to spread herpes to a sexual partner, even if sores are not present.
  • Treatment: There is no cure available, but there are medications that can shorten outbreaks and make them happen less often.
  • Read more about Herpes on CDC.gov

Syphilis (SIF ah lis)

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria. If not treated, it can cause long term damage.

  • Symptoms: Many people who have syphilis have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. The most common symptom early on is a firm, round, painless sore called a “chancre.” However, syphilis can look like many other infections or conditions.
  • Risks: If left untreated, syphilis can cause a lot of damage to the body over time, including paralysis (unable to move certain muscles), blindness, dementia, damage to internal organs, and even death.
  • Treatment: It is usually cured with a shot of penicillin (antibiotics). However, it will not undo any damage to the body the infection has already done.
  • Read more about Syphilis on CDC.gov

Trichomoniasis (trik ah muhn AI ah sis)

Trich (“trick”) is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a tiny parasite that can infect the body.

  • Symptoms: Many people do not know they have trichomoniasis, and symptoms can come and go. Symptoms can be mild irritation, abnormal discharge (vaginal or from penis), and discomfort or more severe swelling.
  • Risks: Untreated trich may make a person more likely to contract another STI.
  • Treatment: Can be cured with a single dose of antibiotics.
  • Read more about Trich on CDC.gov

Hepatitis B and C (HEP ah tie tis)

Hepatitis B and C are infections that affect a person’s liver. While there are several ways the virus can spread, one of them is through sex.

  • Symptoms: Many people who have hepatitis have no symptoms or very mild ones. Those who do have symptoms might have a fever, feel tired, lose their appetite, or have abdominal pain.
  • Risks: While some people’s bodies can clear the infection on their own, some people will develop a chronic infection. These people are at risk for more serious health problems such as liver failure, liver cancer, or death.
  • Treatment: Medication exists to treat Hepatitis C and should be started as soon as possible. There is currently no medication to treat Hepatitis B. However, there is a vaccine a person can get to prevent getting Hepatitis B.
  • Read more about Hepititis B and Hepititis C.

Zika (ZEE kuh)

Zika is a new STI. In Chicago, only people who have travelled to certain areas or are having unprotected sex with someone who travelled to certain areas are at risk. Learn more about Zika.

Testing & treatment

Testing for STIs is a normal part of self care when you are sexually active. Testing does not have to be an ordeal—it’s accessible, respectful, and confidential—and often free.

Your doctor or healthcare provider won’t automatically test for all STIs, know which STIs you’d like to be tested for and ask which tests are done when you see a provider. (You can also learn about other STIs at the Centers for Disease Control’s website.)

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