Untreated STDs have significant long term consequences. They can lead to sterility in both sexes. In women, STDs can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which increases the risk of ectopic pregnancies. One STD in particular, HPV, also increases risk of cervical cancer in women. In addition, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should be aware that untreated STDs can cause complications for their newborn. Screening tests for several of these STDs are now part of routine prenatal care.
The most common STDs are listed below with links to pages describing the laboratory tests used to diagnose them:
Chlamydia. Chlamydia trachomatis is often called “the silent epidemic” because infections are common yet many people do not realize that they are infected. This bacterial disease is easily cured with antibiotics but can have serious health consequences if left untreated.
Gonorrhea. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is another bacterial infection that may not cause symptoms, especially in women, but can lead to sterility and other complications if not treated with antibiotics.
Syphilis. Syphilis is another bacterial infection that can be easily missed. The first symptom is a painless chancre at the site of exposure that will disappear on its own. Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, the disease can spread throughout the body over the course of many years and cause considerable organ damage.
Trichomonas. Trichomonas vaginalis is a microscopic parasite that causes trichomoniasis, a common STD, especially among sexually active young women. Treatment is available.
Human papillomavirus (HPV). One of the most common STDs in the United States, this virus can infect the genital area, causing genital warts (condyloma) in some cases, and has been associated with cervical cancer. Early detection can reduce the risk of cancer. An FDA-approved vaccine is available for the prevention of HPV in females.
Genital herpes. This virus causes recurrent, periodic outbreaks of sores in the genital region and remains in your body for life. However, there are anti-viral therapies available that can shorten the duration of symptoms.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. These are viral infections that can cause liver inflammation. They can be transmitted through sexual contact although hepatitis C is spread more often through sharing of contaminated needles or other equipment used to inject drugs. Both viruses can cause acute forms of the disease that usually result in a few mild symptoms or no symptoms, but they can also progress to a chronic form that causes severe and/or lasting liver damage. Treatment of chronic hepatitis with antiviral medications is available, but drug therapy may have serious side effects. A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B, but currently no vaccine has been developed for hepatitis C.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV causes AIDS. This virus attacks and destroys certain white blood cells (T-helper lymphocytes) that are an important part of the immune system. As the number of these cells is reduced, the ability of your body to fight off infections also decreases. This eventually results in death. Although there is no cure, early detection allows for treatment with anti-retroviral therapies (ART) that can help to prolong life.
For any sexually transmitted disease, if you are infected, you should inform your recent sexual partner(s) so that they may be tested and treated as well. In some states, public health workers will contact those with recently reported gonorrhea or chlamydia infections to be sure that they were treated and to get the names of their sexual partner(s) to notify them to get tested and treated as well.