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Facts You Should Know About STDs
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Facts You Should Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Staying Healthy

STDs are common among young people

  • About 333 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur each year among young adults around the world.
  • One in five people in the United States has an STD.
  • One in four new STD infections occurs in teenagers.
  • One in four people will have an STD at some point during his or her life.
  • One in 10 teenagers knows someone who is HIV-positive.
  • Fifty-six percent of teenagers 12 to 17 years of age think STDs are a big problem for people their age.

Some STDs can be cured, but not all of them

There are two categories of STDs. Bacterial STDs are caused by bacteria, and viral STDs are caused by viruses. As a result of being caused by different microorganisms, bacterial and viral STDs vary in their treatment:

  • Bacterial STDs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, are cured with antibiotics.
  • Viral STDs, such as HIV, HPV (which causes genital warts), herpes, and hepatitis B (the only STD that can be prevented with a vaccine)—the four Hs—have no cure, but their symptoms can be reduced with treatment.

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Some STDs have symptoms, but not all, and not all of the time

  • It is important to remember that some STDs cause no symptoms, and when symptoms do occur, they are often not recognized.
  • Most people with STDs have no symptoms—none! So you can be infected and infect someone else without knowing it. However, there are some common signs to watch for.
  • The symptoms listed below are tricky. They can show up anywhere from 2 days to a couple of months after initial exposure to the disease. Sometimes, symptoms can show up as long as several years after the initial STD infection. Specific symptoms might include:
    • Bumps or blisters near the mouth or genitals;

    • Burning or pain during urination or a bowel movement;
    • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and aches, as well as swelling in the groin area.
    If you notice any of these symptoms or think you may have been exposed to an STD, seek medical care as soon as possible.

STDs are preventable

  • People can get STDs when they engage in vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The only sure way to prevent getting an STD is to not have sex. If you have sex with someone who has an STD, you can get it, too.
  • Condoms can dramatically reduce your risk of contracting STDs when used consistently and correctly, but they don't provide 100 percent protection. Still, if you are going to have sex, make sure to protect yourself and your partner.

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Talking to your doctor can help

It is important to establish an open relationship with your doctor. Doctors are available to improve and maintain your health, not to make judgments about your sexual decision making. Doctors can provide you with valuable information about preventing the transmission of STDs, diagnosing an STD, and making sure you get the best possible treatment available should you contract an STD. Talk to your doctor about your sexual practices. Ask questions and address your concerns—that's what doctors are there for!

Being familiar with available health resources is important

Find out where you can get good healthcare in your area:

  • In addition to your doctor's office, where else can you find health information and treatment?
  • Are there local free clinics in your community?
  • Does your school have a health clinic?
  • Do you know the phone numbers of national hotlines?
  • Do you know how to find information on the Web and at the library?
  • Do you have a good relationship with a trusted adult who can help you answer questions about STDs and other sexual issues?

A good relationship with someone who can answer your questions or help you find the answers is very helpful

Try to develop an open relationship with your parents or another trusted adult, such as another relative, teacher, guidance counselor, or boss. While it may seem difficult to talk about sex and health with adults, they may be able to answer your questions or help you find the answers. They will also be able to give you support. Sexual health and STDs can be emotional issues, and having someone to talk to who will listen and offer advice, help, or provide caring is important to your health.

Sexual health is an ongoing process

Maintaining your sexual health is a continual process, not a one-time act. Many people choose to stay healthy by not having sex. If you decide you are not ready to have sex, it is important to remind yourself why you have made that decision and to think of ways to stick to your decision even when it's difficult.

The decision to become sexually active is one that requires the maturity and responsibility to take care of your health and the health of your partners. By talking about protection with sex partners and using condoms each and every time you have sex, you are taking some necessary steps to maintain your sexual health.

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Last updated: June 18, 2003
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