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STD Facts
Facts You Should Know About STDs



Abstinence—not having sexual intercourse

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)—a condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), AIDS signifies a serious weakening of the immune system. Drugs can now delay the onset of AIDS, but many people with HIV still develop AIDS.

Anal Intercourse—sexual contact in which the penis enters the anus.

Anonymous—no information that identifies a person is used. An anonymous HIV test, for example, is one where a person does not give his or her name or social security number.

Antibiotic—a substance, especially one similar to those produced by certain fungi, for destroying bacteria that kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. An antibiotic is used to combat disease and infection.

Bacteria—a living organism that sometimes causes diseases. Bacteria are very small—so small that a person cannot see them with the naked eye. Usually, infections caused by bacteria can be cured with antibiotics.


Cervix—the lower, cylindrical end of the uterus that forms a narrow canal connecting the upper (uterus) and lower (vagina) parts of a woman's reproductive tract.

Chlamydia—the fastest-spreading STD in the U.S.; a bacterial infection that infects up to four million men and women every year. Often no symptoms are present, especially in women. Untreated chlamydia is dangerous—it can cause sterility, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), and increase the chances for life-threatening tubal pregnancies. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics and can be prevented by avoiding sexual intercourse or by using a latex or polyurethane condom with every sex act.

Condom (male)—a cover for the penis, worn during sex to prevent STDs and pregnancy. Condoms can be made of animal skin, latex, or polyurethane, but only latex and polyurethane condoms protect against diseases. Condoms are effective when used consistently and correctly.

Condom (female)—there is now a "female condom" that lines the vagina, which is worn by the woman during sex to protect herself and her partner against diseases and pregnancy. Condoms are effective when used consistently and correctly.

Confidential—information that identifies a person is kept in a place where no one can get to it. A confidential HIV test, for example, would be one where a person's file would be kept locked so no one could see the results except the doctor or counselor and the patient.

Diagnosis—an assessment of whether a person has a disease, made by a doctor or clinician.


Ectopic Pregnancy—(also called a Tubal Pregnancy) a pregnancy in which the fertilized egg that grows into the fetus attaches itself to the fallopian tube instead of the walls of the uterus. Ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening. Rates of ectopic pregnancy increase significantly in women who have PID, an effect of untreated bacterial STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Fallopian Tube—tubes on each side of the uterus through which an egg moves from the ovaries to the uterus. Resemble drinking straws.

Genital Warts—(caused by the Human Papillomavirus or HPV). HPV infects between one half-million to a million people each year. There are actually about 70 different types of this virus. Some cause small reddish or pink warts on the genitals or anus. Some of the HPV types also cause cervical cancer. It is important for sexually active women to get a pap smear so that possible signs of cervical cancer can be detected early and cancer can be prevented. Because genital warts are caused by a virus, there is no real cure–the warts themselves can be treated, but the virus still lives inside a person's body. HPV is passed through direct skin-to-skin contact, even if no symptoms are present.

Genital Herpes—genital herpes is a viral infection that can be controlled but not cured. Approximately two-thirds of infected people don't know they have herpes because the symptoms are mild or nonexistent. When present, symptoms of the first infection usually appear about 1 month after exposure and last 2 to 3 weeks, including itching or burning sensations in the genital area, discharge and blisters or painful open sores, and sometimes flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands and fever. "Outbreaks" of herpes in which symptoms reappear and individuals become very contagious can happen throughout an infected person's lifetime. About 40 million Americans have herpes.

Gonorrhea—a bacterial STD that infects more than 1 million Americans each year. Many people who are infected show no signs of the disease. When symptoms are present, they resemble those of chlamydia and usually appear 2 to 5 days after sex with an infected partner. Gonorrhea can cause PID if left untreated.

Gynecologist—a doctor who specializes in women's reproductive health.


Hepatitis B—a viral infection that can cause damage to the liver, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, and may result in death. It is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids. There is no cure for Hepatitis B, but it can be prevented with a vaccine.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)—a viral infection that currently has no cure. HIV is passed during sexual intercourse, as well as when HIV-infected needles are shared and from infected mother to infant. It is estimated that 600,000 to 900,000 people in the U.S. are infected with HIV. HIV attacks a person's immune system, leading him or her to be susceptible to a host of diseases and conditions, and eventually progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)—see Genital Warts.

NonGonococcal Urethritis (NGU)—urethritis, characterized by urethral discharge, painful urination, or itching at the end of the urethra. The response is NOT due to gonococcol (gonorrhea) infection.

Oral Intercourse—sex in which the mouth comes in contact with the genital areas (penis or vagina). Many sexually transmitted diseases can be passed during oral intercourse.

Ovary—the pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the lower abdomen, one on each side of the uterus.


Pap Smear—a test performed on a woman to see if there are signs of cancer in the genital area. A pap smear doesn't hurt, but it can pinch a bit.

Partner Notification—when a person with an infection, such as an STD, lets his or her sexual partner(s) know about the infection so that treatment can be sought.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)—a gynecological condition caused by an infection (usually sexually transmitted) that spreads from the vagina to the upper parts of a woman's reproductive tract in the pelvic cavity. PID takes different courses in different women, but it can cause abscesses and constant pain almost anywhere in the genital tract (reproductive system). If left untreated, it can cause infertility or more frequent periods. Severe cases may even spread to the liver and kidneys, causing dangerous internal bleeding, lung failure, and death.

Pelvis—the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones. Organs in a female's pelvis include the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum.

Pubic Lice—tiny insects that live in genital areas. They are spread through sexual contact, as well as when infested bed sheets, clothing, or towels are shared. Itching is the main symptom of pubic lice. Skin may be irritated, and a rash may develop from extensive scratching and digging. Pubic lice can be treated with a medicated shampoo.

Reporting—the process of notifying the federal, State, regional, or local database of new cases of infections. This provides a "big picture" so that we can track different diseases.


Scabies—tiny insects that infect genital areas during sexual contact or sharing of infested bed sheets, towels, or clothes. Scabies are mites that cause severe itching. Extensive scratching can also cause a rash. Like pubic lice, scabies can be cured with a medicated shampoo.

Semen—the fluid from a man's penis that contains sperm.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD)—an infection that is passed during oral, anal, or vaginal sexual contact. There are many sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, HIV, genital warts, and trichomonas.

Spermatozoa (sperm)—the male sex cells. Sperm can fertilize an egg during vaginal intercourse and provide half of the information to make a new life.

Spermicide—an agent that kills spermatozoa (sperm). Spermicide can be found in some condoms.

Sterile—unable to get pregnant or get someone pregnant.


Sterility—the inability to get pregnant, or get someone pregnant; often caused by the effects of untreated bacterial infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.

Symptom—any noticeable change in the body or its functions that indicates disease; a sign that disease is present.

Syphilis—a three-stage STD that affects an estimated 120,000 people each year in the U.S. The first symptom appears 10 days to 3 weeks after exposure and is characterized by a painless red (chancre) sore on the genitals or inside the vagina. This sore goes away. Second-stage symptoms include a skin rash and flu-like symptoms. These symptoms will also go away, but it does not mean that the infection is gone. If left untreated, syphilis progresses into a latent stage that can lapse into third-stage, or tertiary, syphilis. Complications from tertiary syphilis are severe: they include mental illness, blindness, heart disease, and death.

Transmission—the spread of disease, including a sexually transmitted disease, from one person to another.

Trichomoniasis—an STD that can affect both men and women; trichomoniasis, also known as "trich" or "trichomonas," affects about 3 million people every year. When symptoms are present, the infection results in vaginitis in women and urethritis in men.

Urethra—the tube in the penis that carries both urine and semen.


Urethritis—inflammation (swelling) of the urethra, can be painful. STDs, if they are symptomatic, often cause urethritis.

Uterus—the small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis. This is the organ in which an unborn child develops. It is also called the womb.

Vaginal Intercourse—sexual contact in which the penis is inserted inside the vagina. STDs can be transmitted during vaginal intercourse.

Vaginal Fluid—the natural liquids produced inside a woman's vagina. In an infected person, STDs can be passed when vaginal fluids come in contact with the genital area of a woman's sexual partner.

Vaginitis—inflammation (swelling) of the vagina. When symptoms are present, STDs can often cause vaginitis.



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Last updated: June 18, 2003
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