In addition to STD screening and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV, AHF Wellness Centers provide information about STDs, safer sex, cryotherapy treatments for genital warts, and referrals to doctors who specialize in HIV for anyone who tests positive. Our testing counselors can see you on a walk-in basis, so you can get tested when it’s convenient for you, without an appointment.
Click on any of the toggles below to learn more about STDs.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection of the penis, urethra, anus, vagina, cervix, or rarely, the throat or eye. People get it mostly through anal or vaginal sex, although oral sex is also a risk. People with chlamydia may have no symptoms or only mild ones, and can spread chlamydia without knowing they have an infection. If there are symptoms, they can include:
- pain or burning while urinating
- unusual discharge (milky, watery, yellowish, strong-smelling) from the penis or vagina
- swelling of the anus, testicles, or vagina
- bleeding between periods
- pain during vaginal sex
A full course of antibiotics (all the pills prescribed) will knock out chlamydia. Regular sex partners also need to get treatment, or they can pass chlamydia back to the treated partner.
Gonorrhea (sometimes called “the clap” or “the drip”) is a bacterial infection of the penis, urethra, anus, throat, cervix, or vagina. It’s similar to chlamydia in that it infects particular parts of the body and may not have symptoms. Gonorrhea spreads through anal, oral, or vaginal sex. Semen doesn’t need to be present to pass gonorrhea, so oral sex without a condom is a risk even if ejaculation happens outside the mouth. Gonorrhea doesn’t always cause symptoms – gonorrhea in the throat may feel like a sore throat or nothing at all. If symptoms do show up, they can include:
- burning during urination or ejaculation
- increased, greenish, or yellowish discharge from the penis or vagina
- bleeding between periods
- anal discharge or bloody bowel movements
- itching around the anus
Antibiotics will cure gonorrhea. In the past decade, some strains of gonorrhea have become drug resistant, particularly among gay and bi men and on the West Coast. A doctor may prescribe two antibiotics simultaneously to be sure of stopping the infection.
HPV and Genital Warts
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a common virus that has many different strains. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over half of everyone in the U.S. will have HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex. Genital warts are the result of certain types of HPV. While the majority of people clear HPV on their own, it’s also possible to be infected for a long time. If your immune system’s not at its best or if you smoke, warts are more likely to appear and to reoccur. There’s no cure for HPV, but warts can be removed in multiple ways, including cryotherapy – freezing them off.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that causes sores and rashes, and can do serious harm if left untreated. People get syphilis during anal, vaginal, or sometimes oral sex. Rarely, it can be spread through kissing. Gay and bisexual men make up a large proportion those who contract syphilis: according to the Centers for Disease Control, 72% of reported U.S. cases in 2011 were in gay or bi men.
Syphilis progresses in stages. The chancres, or sores, that spread the disease usually develop first. They’re often painless and may be extremely small. The second stage is characterized by rashes, especially on the soles of the feet or palms. 10 to 20 years after infection, some people with syphilis suffer damage to internal organs, which can cause serious problems, and eventually lead to death. Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotics.
- According to the CDC, the national rate of syphilis had declined every year from 1990 to 2000. Then, in 2001, the rate rose for the first time in a decade to 2.2 cases per 100,000 people. By 2008, it was at 4.4 per 100,000.
- In 2010, the national syphilis rate decreased for the first time in decade when it dropped to 4.5 per 100,000. It held steady at this rate in 2011, but in 2012 it jumped back up to 4.6.
- The top ten states for syphilis are: Georgia (9.5), California (7.8), Louisiana (7.4), Maryland (7.4), Florida (7.2), New York (6.3), Texas (6.3), Illinois (6.2), Mississippi (5.9), and Oregon (5.5).
Why Care About STDs?
While many STDs are fairly common and the first symptoms of them may be mild, the consequences of leaving STDs untreated can be serious. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can both lead to epididymitis – an inflammation of the tube connected to the testicles – or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which affects the uterus and fallopian tubes. Either can be painful and cause infertility. Gonorrhea can also lead to ulcers in the throat or rectum. After 10 to 20 years, syphilis can cause organ damage, paralysis, dementia and death. Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can be passed to a child during pregnancy or birth. And having another STD can put you at greater risk for getting HIV.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis can all be completely cured with antibiotics, but they don’t always have obvious symptoms. Regular testing, depending on your risk level, lets you get treatment if you need it, avoiding any long-term consequences and stopping STDs from spreading.
How to Prevent STDs
While abstinence is the only way to completely avoid the risk of STDs, condoms have proven extremely effective in stopping many STDs – including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – from spreading. Condoms will also reduce the risk of catching or spreading HPV, but because warts can show up on areas of the genitals or mouth not covered by a condom, they reduce the risk less. If you notice you have a wart, you can lessen the chance of spreading HPV by covering it with a barrier or keeping your partner out of contact with it. There is also a vaccine available to prevent the strains of HPV commonly linked to genital warts and cancer.
In addition to using condoms, you can keep your sex safer by having fewer partners, talking with them about your STD status and sexual history, and getting tested regularly.