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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a disease that is spread during sex. (An STI can also be called an STD for sexually transmitted disease). You can catch an STI if you have sex with someone who has an STI. Any sex that involves the penis, vagina, anus or mouth can spread disease. Some STIs spread through body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid or blood. Others spread through contact with affected skin.

Who is at risk of getting an STD?

Any person who has sex can get an STD.

Your risk increases if:

  • You have more than one partner. The more partners you have, the greater your risk.
  • Your partner has other partners. If your partner is exposed to an STI, you could be, too.
  • You or your partner have had sex with other people in the past. Either of you might be carrying an STI from an earlier partner.
  • You have an STI. The STI may cause sores or other health problems that increase your vulnerability to new infections. Your risk will stay high unless you change the behaviors that put you at risk of the current infection.

How do I know if I have an STI?

The only sure way to know if you have an STD is to get checked by a healthcare provider. If you notice a change in how your body looks or feels, have it checked out. But keep in mind, STDs don’t always show symptoms. So if you’re at risk of STDs, get checked regularly. If you find you have an STD, be sure your partner gets treatment, too. If not, his or her health is at risk. And left untreated, your partner could pass the STD back to you, or on to others.

Common symptoms from STIs

Be alert to any changes in your body and your partner’s body. Symptoms may appear in or near the vagina, penis, rectum, mouth or throat.

They include:

  • Unusual discharge
  • Lumps, bumps or rashes
  • Sores that may be painful, itchy or painless
  • Itchy skin
  • Burning with urination
  • Pain in the pelvis, abdomen or rectum

Other complications from STIs

Left untreated, certain STIs can lead to cancer or even death. Some can harm unborn babies whose mothers are infected. Others can cause sterility (not being able to have children). You can prevent these problems with safer sex, regular checkups and early treatment. Always use a latex condom when you have sex. Get tested if you’re at risk. And get treated early if you have an STI.

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