Across the world, there are a record 26 million reported cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) each year. Of these cases, almost half of all new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occurred among people between the ages of 15 to 24.
A lot of STIs go unnoticed since many fail to show symptoms.
This makes it all the more important to take your sexual health seriously and to do things like practice safe sex with partners, discuss your sexual history, and get tested regularly.
Thankfully, many STDS can be cured, but it’s important to treat them in their early stages.
Many STDs have serious long-term side effects if left untreated.
Most Common STDs in The United States
If you’re a sexually active person, you’ve probably heard of HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, trichomoniasis, syphilis, and genital herpes.
Since most STIs show very few symptoms, you may have one and not know it.
In the section below, we’ll cover the data surrounding the most common STDs in the United States, including their symptoms and ways of prevention and treatment.
The most common STD in the United States is the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV, and in 2018, there were 43 million infections of HPV among young people.
You can contract HPV sexually through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Skin-to-skin contact can also transfer the virus.
Thankfully, most types of HPV cause no harm and show no symptoms.
However, it’s still important to get tested as some strains of HPV can lead to genital warts or cancer of the mouth, throat, penis, or cervix.
A pap smear is recommended to test for cervical cancer caused by HPV.
There are three recommended vaccines (Cervarix, Gardasil, Gardasil-9) to infection with HPV. It is recommended by the CDC that people from the ages of 11 to 26 get vaccinated against HPV.
The vaccine is also available for anyone up to the age of 45. Speak to your doctor about getting the HPV vaccine.
Signs and Symptoms of HPV:
The most common sign of HPV is genital warts. They are tiny, white, raised bumps found on your genital area.
They shouldn’t be painful, but they can be a bit itchy.
Warts may also appear on other areas of your body like your feet, arms, hands, and fingers. They are usually textured and can appear darker than your skin.
It’s important to note that sometimes warts do not appear until years after the initial moment of infection.
Some HPV infections are asymptomatic and resolve on their own without treatment.
However, some strains can lead to testicular, vaginal, or cervical cancer. That’s why it’s important to get the vaccine, as well as a pap smear to check for possible cervical cancer.
Chlamydia is the most commonly contracted STD on college campuses.
Similar to other STIs, there may not be any noticeable symptoms, so it’s easier to spread the infection.
This can be especially true for men, as they rarely get symptoms so they may not seek testing. However, from 2015-2019, rates of chlamydia in men increased 32.1%.
Chlamydia is spread through vaginal or anal sex, but it is possible to receive it from oral sex as well.
If you have any symptoms, you might feel some slight burning while you pee.
You might have some unusual discharge from your vagina or penis, as well.
If you have chlamydia and it goes untreated, it can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a serious pelvic infection that requires treatment with antibiotics.
Untreated chlamydia may affect your ability to have children.
People are commonly infected with both, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
They are both common STIs, especially in young people on college campuses.
You can be tested for both at the same time.
Similarly to chlamydia, you might not notice any symptoms. However, you might experience painful burning while peeing, or unusual discharge from your vagina or penis.
Since sometimes gonorrhea does not have obvious symptoms, it’s important to get tested regularly.
If you’re sexually active, you should definitely get tested.
In 2018, there were an estimated number of 75,683 reported cases of gonorrhea found amongst young people on college campuses.
Just like chlamydia, if gonorrhea goes undetected and untreated, it can lead to fertility issues.
Similar to other STDs, trichomoniasis only produces symptoms in about 30% of infected individuals.
If you do have symptoms, you may have sore, itchy, or burning genitals. You may experience burning with urination. Some yellowish, greenish, and odorous discharge can be expected as well.
Since trichomoniasis often is asymptomatic many people do not get tested for it.
It is estimated that almost 7 million people in the United States have trichomoniasis and do not know it.
It is estimated that 18.6 million people have genital herpes in the United States.
Any skin-to-skin contact, no matter how minor, can transfer the virus.
People are at their most contagious when they have blisters, but the virus can be passed along even without them.
There are two strains of the virus, HSV-1 known as oral herpes, and HSV-2 known as genital herpes.
The main symptoms of genital herpes are irritating, painful blisters around the vagina, penis, or anus area.
They can also hide inside your genitals where you cannot see them. However, not everyone with herpes will get blisters.
Herpes cannot be cured, but with the proper medication, it can be managed.
Syphilis is a very serious disease that rarely shows symptoms, but if it is not caught early on, it could develop into organ damage and even be life-threatening.
It has four stages consisting of symptoms and non-symptoms.
The first stage is a painless sore on your genitals. It can look harmless, like an ingrown hair or a simple cut.
The second stage is a rash somewhere on your body, in addition to sores found in the mouth, anus, or vagina.
The third stage, known as the latent stage, is when symptoms disappear.
It can last until the end of your life. That’s why it’s important to get tested regularly because 15% of people with untreated syphilis advance into the final stage.
In the final stage, syphilis can develop into brain, organ, and nerve damage.
Over 150,000 people in the United States have syphilis, and while it is not the most common STD in the country, it is highly contagious, serious, and can be fatal if left untreated.
HIV is one of the most well-known viruses and is the virus that causes AIDS.
It can be passed through vaginal or anal intercourse. It can also be passed through the bloodstream, or by sharing needles.
HIV can weaken the immune system, although it may take years for the virus to reach this point. At first, the symptoms may be hard to detect.
The initial infection feels like a bout with the flu, and you may have fatigue, a low-grade fever, and muscle aches.
You’ll need to get your saliva or blood tested to determine if you have HIV.
Though there is not a cure, there are modern drugs that help people with HIV live long, fulfilling lives.
If HIV goes undiagnosed or untreated, over time, it can take an extreme toll on the body’s immune system. At a certain point, your body will struggle to fight off any other infections.
Almost one million people in the United States are living with HIV.
Testing & Treatment
As previously stated, getting tested is a crucial part of a healthy sex life.
It can help stop the spread of STDs and help you get any necessary treatment should you need anything.
There are some treatment methods that can either cure or halt the progression of your STD.
They vary whether the infection is viral or bacterial, and the timeline of infection.
There are over 100 strains of HPV, and most infections do go away on their own.
If this is the case, then no treatment is required. If HPV does not fade away, it can stay in the body and be transferred to another person.
Women can get pap smears to get tested for HPV. If the results are positive, you will be monitored to make sure the virus does not develop into cancer.
The most important thing to remember about HPV is that it can develop into cancer.
If you are sexually active, getting tested and getting one of these three vaccines (Cervarix, Gardasil, Gardasil-9) will significantly decrease your chances of getting HPV.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacterial infection and can be treated with antibiotics like azithromycin (Zithromax).
However, it’s important to continue testing within three months after getting treated. You should be certain that the bacterial infection has been completely removed from your system.
Your partner should also get tested and treated if necessary. Testing for chlamydia involves either a urine sample or a swab around the genitals.
Gonorrhea is another bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics. You can get tested for gonorrhea through a urine sample or a swab of the genitals.
Trichomoniasis is also treated with antibiotics since it’s a bacterial infection. You can either have a urine sample done or a swab of genital fluid.
It’s important to get tested within three months after treatment, and any sexual partners should do the same.
Herpes is caused by a viral infection so it not curable. However, there are many medications you can take to manage it.
Your doctor may recommend antiviral medication such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex) to help treat your genital herpes.
Some people have very limited flare-ups with genital herpes.
Most people will only see blisters one time. However, you can still pass along the infection even without visible herpes, so you should get tested.
For testing, your doctor will swab the infected area.
Syphilis is another STD that is vital to catch early. It’s a bacterial infection and can be treated with antibiotics like penicillin. The earlier syphilis is caught, the better.
The more progressed the infection, the longer the course of your antibiotics may be. To get tested for syphilis, your doctor will either do a blood test or swab an infected sore.
To get tested for HIV, your doctor will either do a blood test or a mouth swab.
HIV is not curable, but there are many modern drugs that help people live normal lives.
You will may be prescribed antiretroviral medicines to control the virus, and limit the ways the virus can adapt and multiply.
You might take abacavir (Ziagen), lamivudine (Epivir), or emtricitabine (Emtriva), in addition to many other drugs.
When to See a Doctor
Anyone who is sexually active could benefit from getting tested for STIs and STDs, at least annually.
You should also go to the doctor at the first sign of any concerning activity in your genital area, such as itching, burning while peeing, sores, foreign bumps, or cuts.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Sexually Transmitted Infections Among College Students. (2021).
Sexually Transmitted Infections Prevalence, Incidence, and Cost Estimates in the United States. (2021).
Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (2021).
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Disease-Specific Research. (2016).