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Do You Have An STI? 5 Common STIs and Their Symptoms

Medical Health

Asexually-transmitted infection (STI) is any infection that’s passed on through sexual contact; some are transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex while others can be transferred from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. STIs can fly under the radar for a long time because, even though there are more than 1 million infections every day worldwide, most of them are asymptomatic and can go undetected for sometimes years. Some STIs are mild and curable while others can be fatal if left undetected and untreated for lengths of time. Today, we’ll cover the 5 most common STIs, symptoms, and treatment options so you can keep yourself and your partner safe.

1.   Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common STI with about 43 million cases of the virus reported in 2018. Because HPV can be spread via close skin-to-skin touching during sex and present no symptoms for years, it spreads quickly, especially among teenagers, who may be engaging in sexual activity for the first time.

Symptoms of HPV

If your immune system doesn’t naturally fight off the virus, those who are infected might notice the following symptoms:

  1. Flat warts which present as flat-topped, slightly raised lesions.
  2. Itchy or tender genital warts which appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina as small, cauliflower stems; In men,  these warts pop up near the anus, penis, and scrotum.
  3. Cervical Cancer


HPV can be treated with a vaccine, however, this vaccine is most effective when administered during the pre-teen years. If left untreated, HPV can cause cervical cancer among women, so it’s recommended that all adults receive or catch up on their HPV vaccine as a precaution.

2. Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is one of the most contagious STIs around. According to John Hopkins Medicine, approximately 40million to 50 million adults in the United States have genital herpes. This virus comes in several different forms with some people developing symptoms within a few weeks while others remain asymptomatic. A person may experience symptoms that go away after some time but return as an outbreak, often triggered by stress, other viruses, or menstrual cycles.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

  1. Small bumps or blisters around the genitals, anus or mouth. Once these blisters rupture, ulcers can form.
  2. Scabs often form as ulcers heal. 
  3. Pain or itching around the genitals.
  4. Pain during urination and discharge from the urethra.
  5. Vaginal discharge.
  6. Fever, headache, or joint pain.

Treatment For Genital Herpes

Currently, there is no vaccine nor cure for genital herpes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see a doctor if you suspect you have it. A doctor can test for the virus and prescribe a daily use of antiviral medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks.

3. Syphilis

Since symptoms vary by stage, the following are common symptoms of syphilis:

  1. Painless sores called chancres; some people develop one sore but others get multiple and they normally last for only a few weeks.
  2. A rash that may look rough, red or reddish-brown and isn’t itchy.
  3. Hair loss.
  4. Muscle aches.
  5. Swollen lymph nodes.
  6. Long-term damage to the brain, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and nerves.
  7. Weight loss and fatigue.
  8. Sore throat and fever.

Treatment for Syphilis

The CDC recommends three doses of long-acting Benzathine penicillin G to treat syphilis; depending on the disease stage, a patient may give a short round of penicillin to treat advanced disease or a single shot for early stage syphilis. While medicine helps prevent future damage, it doesn’t reverse any damage already caused.

4. Chlamydia

As common as chlamydia is, it’s asymptomatic in most people and can cause serious health issues. Women can be particularly harmed from this virus, causing permanent damage to the reproductive organs and making it difficult to get pregnant as well as increasing the risk of a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, pregnant women who have chlamydia can infect their baby during delivery resulting in an eye infection or pneumonia in the newborn.

Symptoms of Chlamydia

If symptoms present, the following symptoms they may not appear until several weeks after having sex with an infected partner:

  1. Abnormal or smelly vaginal discharge and discharge from the penis.
  2. A burning sensation when urinating.
  3. Pain and swelling of the testicles.
  4. Rectal pain, bleeding, and discharge is the virus contracted during anal sex.

Treatment for Chlamydia

Chlamydia is highly treatable, and can be cured with a round of antibiotics. In fact, more than 95% of people beat this STI if they take their antibiotics correctly. If there is a strong suspicion of chlamydia, your doctor might start you on treatment before test results come back to get a head start on getting rid of the virus.

5.  Gonorrhea

According to the CDC, approximately 1.6 million new gonorrhea infections occurred in theUnited States in 2018, making this the second most commonly reported STI in theUS. About half of all cases occur among young people aged 15-24, but fewer cases are reported than occur, because many people don’t experience symptoms.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

  1. Urethral infection in men resulting in a white, yellow, or green urethral discharge.
  2. Testicular or scrotal pain.
  3. Increased vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods. Women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, regardless of the presence or severity of symptoms.
  4. Anal itching, soreness, or bleeding
  5. Painful bowel movements.
  6. Sore throat.

Treatment for Gonorrhea

Successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming more difficult because of antimicrobial resistance to the virus, but treatment is very possible with intramuscular ceftriaxone. Because re-infection is so common among gonorrhea patients, doctors typically recommend a test-of-cure follow up appointment 7-14 days after the medicine is administered to ensure the infection was treated successfully.

All in all, most STIs share many of the same symptoms so we highly recommend getting tested regularly and encouraging your partner to do the same. Prevention and early detection together can limit your risk of disease.


So, How Can I Prevent an STI?

Every STI is a little different, but prevention is similar across the board. Condoms are one of the most effective prevention methods when used consistently and correctly. This barrier method can help protect partners from fluid exchanges during anal and vaginal sex, however, it does not prevent extra-genital ulcers as in the case of syphilis or genital herpes.

Vaccines also exist for hepatitis B and HPV so sexual partners should seek out screenings and vaccines for these two STIs. In particular, the HPV vaccine has been enormously effective at helping reduce instances of cervical cancers that tend to stem from untreated HPV.

Abstinence is also an effective way to limit exposure of risk of contracting an STI. By avoiding oral, vaginal, and anal sex, partners can drastically reduce their risk of STI-related disease. If you are sexually active, practicing mutual monogamy can help lower your STI risk. Having a single partner and knowing that your partner does as well can give you peace of mind that there aren’t opportunities to introduce a new STI to your relationship. Even in mutual monogamy, it’s important to get yourself and your partner tested periodically to ensure no latent STIs are present and infecting the other person.



Written by:
Davina Adcock

Davina is a native of Grenada and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She's a content specialist with a passion for empowering women to thrive and reach their full potential. In her free time, Davina is probably painting, reading, or baking something unnecessarily sweet.

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