Signs and Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Most STDs cause relatively harmless disease, producing few or no symptoms. However, some produce persistent asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic disease (e.g., chlamydia). Some people carry an STD for days or weeks, while others carry the disease for longer periods, even for life. During this time, an infected individual, or carrier, can spread disease.

In persistent infection, the pathogen evades detection by the immune system and remains fairly inactive, causing no overt disease. This inactivity is called latency. However, certain triggers (e.g., stress, immune suppression, injury) can reactivate latent pathogens. In some cases, reactivated disease is asymptomatic (e.g., chlamydia); in others, overt (e.g., genital herpes); and in still others, severe and possibly fatal (e.g., HIV/AIDS, hepatitis).

Complications of STD infection include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis) in women, inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) and inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) in men, and fertility and reproductive system problems in both sexes.

Possible consequences to an infant infected while in the womb or during birth, include stillbirth, blindness, and permanent neurological damage.

A person infected with an STD is more likely to become infected with HIV, and a person infected with HIV and another STD is more likely to transmit HIV.

Treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Viral STDs, such as genital herpes (HSV), human papillomavirus virus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cannot be cured, but symptoms can be managed with medication. Bacterial STDs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can be cured with antibiotics. Fungal (e.g., vaginal yeast infection) and parasitic (e.g., trichomoniasis) diseases can be cured with antifungal and antihelminthic agents, respectively. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chances for cure.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015