Many STDs may not show symptoms, or symptoms may be so mild that they’re mistaken for something else. There’s a lot of misinformation about STDs and how they can spread – and we’re here to help separate fact from fiction.

The Big Four

DoingItRVA focuses on The Big Four STDs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. While this section focuses on general information about each of these STDs, we’d like you to know that no matter the STD the only way to know if you have one for sure is to get tested. Often times people won’t get symptoms, or symptoms are mild or go unnoticed. If you are having sex, period, you are at risk of getting an STD. Get tested for free.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection. This STD disproportionately affects sexually active people younger than 25, especially women. It can be spread through vaginal, anla, or oral sex. It can easily be cured with antibiotics, but can cause major health problems for you in the future if it remains untreated.

Chlamydia can be sneaky because it doesn’t always show symptoms. Often times when people have chlamydia, they don’t have any symptoms, or symptoms are very mild, so they don’t know they’re infected. That’s why it’s important to get tested – the quicker you know you have an STD, the quicker it can be treated! Learn more.

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection. This STD disproportionately affects sexually active people younger than 25, especially women. It can be spread through vaginal, anla, or oral sex. It can easily be cured with antibiotics, but can cause major health problems for you in the future if it remains untreated.

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Symptoms for people with vaginas:

  • abnormal vaginal discharge
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • if a rectal infection, there may be pain, discharge, or bleeding from the rectum

Symptoms for people with penises:

  • a yellow, white, or cloudy discharge from the penis
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • pain or swelling in one or both testicles
  • if a rectal infection, there may be pain, discharge, or bleeding from the rectum

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is common in the United States. It is especially common for teenagers and individuals in their twenties. Over the years, it’s gotten other names such as “the clap” or “the drip”. It can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Gonorrhea is easily cured with antibiotics, but can cause major health problems if left untreated.

This STD may not have any symptoms, or symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed. Part of the reason that STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia are so common is because people don’t even realize that they have it! If you do notice symptoms, it’s important to get tested quickly. The only way to know whether or not you may have gonorrhea for sure is to get tested. Learn more.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that is common in the United States. It is especially common for teenagers and individuals in their twenties. Over the years, it’s gotten other names such as “the clap” or “the drip”. It can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Gonorrhea is easily cured with antibiotics, but can cause major health problems if left untreated.

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Symptoms for people with vaginas:

  • yellow, or bloody vaginal discharge
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • bleeding between periods
  • if a rectal infection, itching in or around the anus, rectal discharge, or pain when you poop

Symptoms for people with penises:

  • a yellow, white, or green discharge from the penis
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • pain or swelling in one or both testicles
  • if a rectal infection, itching in or around the anus, rectal dischrage, or pain when you poop

Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it’s not treated. This STD works by causing sores – called chancres – at the site of infection. These chancres can easily spread infection to other people through direct contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. These sores may be found on or around the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth.

Syphilis has four distinct stages, which appear as different symptoms at each stage. Some stages don’t have any symptoms at all, but as long as syphilis remains untreated it is causing damage in your body. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics; however, treatment might not undo any damage that the infection does to your body. Learn more.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it’s not treated. This STD works by causing sores – called chancres – at the site of infection. These chancres can easily spread infection to other people through direct contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. These sores may be found on or around the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth.

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Multiple sores, or chancres, may appear that are firm, round, and usually painless – but that is not always the case. These sores appear at the location where syphilis entered the body which can make them difficult to notice. Thes sores last 3-to-6 weeks whether a person receives treatment or not.

Skin rashes or sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus may appear. Rashes can develop on areas of the body several weeks after the primary stage. They may be faint and go unnoticed. Other symptoms can include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. Symptoms may go away, but the infection will continue to progress and cause harm if not treated.

This stage is a period of time when there are no visible signs or symptoms of syphilis. A person with an infection will continue to have the disease in their body even if signs or symptoms are not present. Latent syphilis can last for years.

It is rare for syphilis to reach this stage. The tertiary stage can appear 10-to-30 ears after infection was first acquired, and can be fatal. This stage can affect multiple organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.

HIV

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Once you have HIV, it stays in your body for life. The human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment.

It works by damaging your body’s immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. Over time, HIV can hurt your immune system so much that your body can’t fight off infections or disease. Infections or cancers then take advantage of a very weak immune system.

There is no cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, the virus can be controlled. If taken the right way, every day, you can live a long healthy life and greatly lower your chance of infecting others. It’s important to find out if you have HIV early on so that treatment can be started to stop the progression of the disease. Learn more.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. Once you have HIV, it stays in your body for life. The human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment.

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Within 2-to-4 weeks after infection, some people develop flu-like symptoms, often described as “the worst flu ever.” Symptoms can include fever, swollen glands, sore throat, rash, muscle and joint aches and pains, and headache.  This is the body’s natural response to the HIV infection. During this early period, large amounts of the virus are produced in your body. You are at a very high risk of transmitting HIV at this stage.

After the acute infection stage, the disease lives or develops in your body without producing symptoms, or only very mild ones. The virus continues to reproduce at very low levels, even if it can’t be detected with laboratory tests. During this stage, you are still able to transmit HIV to others.

If you take medication, you may live in clinical latency for decades and never progress to AIDS because treatment helps keep the virus in check.

This stage occurs when your immune system is badly damaged and you become vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Without treatment, people who progress to AIDS typically survive about 3 years.

In the United States, most people with HIV do not develop AIDS because effective medication stops the progression of the disease. People who are diagnosed with HIV early can life a life span the same as someone who does not have HIV.

How STDs Spread

There are a lot of ways that STDs can be spread, but there are also a lot of myths about how STDs can be spread. The key to wondering if an STD can be transmitted in a certain way is in it’s name – sexually transmitted disease. If the method of transmission is sexual, then you can probably get an STD through it. Check out the lists of fact and fiction below for yourself.

  • Fact
  • You can get an STD through oral, vaginal, or rectal sex.
  • Some STDs, like herpes, can be spread by kissing.
  • You can still have and spread an STD if you are not exhibiting any symptoms.
  • You can get the same STD again, even if you were treated earlier for one.
  • Condoms are a great form of protection, but are not 100% effective. You need to get tested to know for sure whether or not you have an STD.
  • Fiction
  • You can spread an STD through toilet seats or towels.
  • You can get an STD from sharing a drink or food with somebody.
  • You can't get an STD from having oral sex.
  • Condoms are 100% effective.
  • Birth control will protect you from getting an STD.
  • If my partner pulls out or if I pull out, we can't spread an STD.

Learn More

This page gave a brief overview of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. If you’d like more information, click one of the links below to learn more from the CDC about each of the STDs. If you have any questions, please reach out to us here!

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