So, which sexually transmitted diseases should someone get tested for? A person's relative risk depends on several factors, including number of sexual partners, age, and sexual orientation. However, a select number of STDs occur with greater frequency in this country:
1. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
More than 14 million new cases of HPV occur every year in the U.S.4 There are actually 40 different types of HPV affecting the throat, mouth, or genitals. It's been suggested that most people who are sexually active will contract at least one form of HPV at some point in their life.4
People infected with HPV often show no symptoms, and the condition can go away on its own within 1 to 2 years (there is also a vaccine available to protect against it). However, HPV may lead to more serious health problems, including cervical cancer and genital warts.
Nearly 3 million new cases of chlamydia are estimated to occur annually in the U.S., although not all of them are reported.4,5 In 2017, alone, the CDC estimated that this STD affected 529 out of 100,000 people.1 Estimates indicate that 1 in 20 girls and women who are sexually active and between the ages of 14-24 have it.5
If symptoms do occur, they generally include discharge and pain during sex. Untreated cases can lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease in women and prostatitis in men.
Antibiotics are the standard treatment for chlamydia.
More than 1 million new cases of trichomoniasis occur every year in the U.S.4 This STD occurs due to the transmission of a parasite, which can lodge itself in the vagina or urethra.
If symptoms do occur, they generally include:
- Itching or burning during urination
- Discharge from the penis or vagina
Trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics.
Every year, an estimated 800,000 new cases of gonorrhea occur in the U.S.4 The estimated rate in 2017 according to the CDC was 172 out of every 100,000 people. This STD is caused by bacteria which can infect the urethra, mouth, throat, and anus.
When symptoms are present, they generally include:
- Painful urination (dysuria)
- Discharge from the penis or vagina (often white, yellow, or green)
- Spotty bleeding in between periods (in women)
- Testicular pain (in men)
Like chlamydia and trichomoniasis, gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics.
5. Genital Herpes (HSV)
800,000 new cases of genital herpes are estimated to occur every year in the US. Two types of viruses can cause HSV, herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2. Usually (but not always), genital herpes is caused by type 2, while herpes affecting the mouth (also known as cold sores) is caused by type 1.
Genital herpes is extremely common and is estimated to affect 1 out of every 5 Americans between the ages of 14 and 49.6 When a person is first infected, they may develop flu-like symptoms. If symptomatic, genital herpes can lead to painful blisters around the vagina, penis, and anus. These blisters can break and take a while to heal.
Remember, however, that not everybody with genital herpes has symptoms, and even if they don't they still can transmit the STD to their sexual partners. HSV also increases your risk of contracting other STDs.
Herpes cannot be cured, but the frequency and severity of flare-ups (as well as the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else) can be reduced through anti-viral medications. Herpes flare-ups tend to become less severe and frequent naturally over time.
An estimated 55,000 new cases of syphilis occur every year in the United States.4 According to the CDC's 2017 estimates, this STD affected about 10 out of 100,000 people, along with 23 out of 100,000 babies who contract syphilis during pregnancy (congenital syphilis).7 The rates of congenital syphilis actually jumped by 44% between the years 2016 and 2017.1
This STD is caused by bacteria, so it too can be treated with antibiotics. If symptoms develop, they may not show up until 90 days after initial exposure. Early symptoms may include sores and and a rash on the hands, soles of the feet, or all over the body. In severe untreated cases, syphilis can cause brain damage, dementia, blindness, paralysis, and death.
7. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Every year in the United States, an estimated 41,000 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) occurs. HIV attacks a person's immune system and destroys their white blood cells. This makes it much harder for people who are HIV+ to fight off infections.
Within the first few weeks to months after contracting HIV, flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, muscle cramps, and night sweats can (but don't always) occur. A person can then live for years without any symptoms as HIV enters its clinical latency phase.8 As the disease progresses, HIV can eventually lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), as well as a number of other health conditions due to the person's weakened immunity. For example, women with HIV are more likely to experience recurring yeast infections.8
Significant strides have been made in the last few decades regarding treatment of HIV. While the virus can't be cured, it can be well managed through medications, to the point where the amount of virus in the blood is so low that it can't be detected on a blood test and a person cannot spread the virus to others—a promising and relatively new phenomenon called "Undetectable = Untransmittable" or U=U.9
8. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when normal healthy bacteria in and around the vagina are replaced by atypical bacteria. While some people question if BV is a true STD, it does tend to occur in women who have new or multiple sexual partners. Like genital herpes, BV also increases a woman's risk for contracting other STDs.
The main signs and symptoms of BV include:
- Burning and itching near the vagina
- White or gray discharge
- A strong odor, often described as "fishy" that often becomes most noticeable right after intercourse
BV is treatable with antibiotics.
9. Pubic Lice/Crabs
Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are small insects that can infect the skin and feed on human blood. They are estimated to have a worldwide incidence of around 2%.10
The main symptoms of pubic lice include:
- Itching near the genitals
- Visible lice or nits (lice eggs) on or around the pubic hair
- Sores and skin irritation from scratching or lice bites
While public lice do not spread disease directly, a person infested with them may be at increased risk of bacterial skin infections due to frequent itching. Medicated shampoos or lotions that kill lice are the general method of treatment.
10. Mycoplasma Genitalium
Mycoplasma genitalium is caused by bacteria and is much more common than previously thought. According to the CDC, it is believed to be generally more prevalent than gonorrhea but still less common than chlaymdia.11
Symptoms of mycoplasma genitalium, if there are any, typically include:
- Burning during urination
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Discharge from the urethra (in men)
- Pain and swelling of the joints (generally seen in men)
This STD is thought to be the most common cause of urethritis in men (other than those cases caused by gonorrhea and chlamydia) and cervicitis in women (inflammation of the cervix). Treatment typically involves antibiotics.
Is it Time For You To Get Tested?
By now, it's clear that many of the common STDs share similar symptoms. As mentioned, it's also possible for STDs to not have any symptoms at all. Because of these reasons, the only way a person can know for sure if he or she has an STD is to get tested.
Being mature enough to have sex means being mature enough to get tested for STDs. To learn more about getting a routine and reliable screening for sexually transmitted diseases in the privacy and comfort of your own home, check out select of At Home STD Kits.