What are STDs?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are a group of infections that can spread through any type of sexual contact. They are generally passed from an infected person to others through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. They may also spread through other means of intimate physical contact such as kissing and heavy petting. For example, herpes can spread through skin-to-skin contact. STDs can be caused by various bacteria, parasites and viruses. Millions of new STIs occur each year in the United States. Examples of diseases that can be sexually transmitted are:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Genital herpes
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Pubic lice
- Hepatitis B and C
- Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS)
- Molluscum contagiosum
Some people may remain completely unaware that they have an STD, because it may not cause any noticeable symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms appear very late after infection and may come and go. Therefore, many people may unknowingly spread the disease to their partner(s) because they do not exhibit any signs of the disease.
Can I get any STDs through clothing?
Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cannot be transmitted through clothing. Nonetheless, some STDs such as pubic lice, scabies and molluscum contagiosum can be transmitted by sharing clothes with an infected person. These infections can spread through any type of physical contact, not necessarily sexual contact. They may also spread through linen or bedding used by an infected person. Fortunately, these diseases cause obvious signs and symptoms such as rashes and itching. Thus, the affected person will be aware of the disease. Therefore, they must practice necessary precautions for preventing the spread of the infection to others such as properly washing and disinfecting clothing and bedding, frequent hand washing, and not sharing articles of personal use including clothes. Most other STDs are not transmitted through clothing or sharing toilet seats. This is because the germs causing these diseases cannot survive on such surfaces.
How can I protect myself from getting an STD?
Because all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can spread through unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, anal and oral sex), following safe sex practices are essential to protect yourself and your partner:
- The best way to prevent contracting any STDs is to avoid any contact with another person’s mouth and genitals.
- Practice safe sex by using protection such as condoms and dental dams to lower infection risk. Condoms lower your risk considerably but may not provide 100 percent protection because the pathogen (infection-causing organism) can survive on areas not protected by condoms such as the buttocks, labia and scrotum.
- Most STDs (such as herpes) spread more easily during an outbreak. The infection can spread even when there are no symptoms, through asymptomatic shedding. This is when the virus is present on the skin with no symptoms.
- Use condoms if you or your partner have sexually transmitted infections (STIs), even if no symptoms are present. You must, however, avoid having sex (oral, anal or vaginal) during a herpes outbreak. Learn to recognize the symptoms preceding an outbreak such as burning, itching or tingling feelings.
- If you are infected, ask your doctor about medications that lower your risk of spreading the infection.
- Avoid touching your rash/sore because this can spread the infection to other body parts, especially in newer infections.
- Wash your hands with soap and water if you have touched the rash/sore accidentally or while applying medications.
- Avoid kissing if you have a sore in your mouth or on your lips.
- Do not share personal articles such as toothbrushes, towels, razors, drinks, and straws if you have cold sores. (Making it a habit of not sharing these items is smart for many reasons, not just for oral herpes.)
- Effective vaccines are available against human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated for these infections.
- Avoid sharing clothes or bedding if you have scabies, pubic lice (crabs) or molluscum contagiosum.
Stay healthy by consuming a balanced diet, doing regular physical activity and staying hydrated. If you think you have an STD, contact your doctor.
CDC: "Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)"
Planned Parenthood: "I borrowed my best friend’s shorts. Now she thinks she might have an STD. Could I have gotten it from wearing her shorts?"
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