Current Environment:


Recall Alert

There is a voluntary recall of Potassium Chloride Extended-Release Capsules. Learn more

What is an STD?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infectious diseases spread through sexual contact. These infections are very common, especially among young people. The U.S. has some of the highest rates of STDs in the industrialized world.

Anyone who has sex can get an STD, but young people are particularly affected. Two-thirds of STDs occur in people under 25, mostly because young people are more likely to be sexually active. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four girls between the ages 14 and 19 were determined to have at least one of four sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis.

The rates of STDs are on the rise, possibly because of higher rates of sexual activity with multiple sex partners. Many STDs such as AIDS/HIV, herpes, and syphilis can be passed on from mother to the baby at birth. STDs can also cause low birthweight and premature babies. Babies with infected mothers can have problems such as pneumonia, eye infections, and brain damage.

STD | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of STDs?

STDs or STIs can include a range of symptoms, or no symptoms at all, which is why they frequently go unnoticed. Signs and symptoms that might mean you or your child has an STD include:

  • abnormal or odd-smelling genital discharge
  • burning sensation during urination
  • open sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • pain during sex
  • sore, swollen groin
  • fever

What causes STDs?

Generally, STDs are transmitted by sexual contact, passed from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. However, sometimes these infections can be transmitted non-sexually — either through blood transfusions or shared needles, or during pregnancy from mother to child.

STDs do not always cause symptoms and are often contracted from people who seem healthy, and who may not even be aware they have an infection. STDs don't always cause symptoms, which is one of the reasons experts prefer the term "sexually transmitted infections" to "sexually transmitted diseases."

STD | Diagnosis & Treatments

What are the treatment options for STDs?

STD treatment depends on the particular STD you have. For example, gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics, while herpes may need to be treated with anti-viral agents or creams. No matter the STD, it's important to get tested at the first sign and to start treatment right away to avoid more serious problems.

How can my child prevent getting an STD?

The only way you or your child can completely prevent an STD is to not have sex. The younger a person is when they begin to have sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD. As parents, you can't always control this part of your child's life, but talk to them about sex and STDs early.

If sexually active, the best thing is to use a latex condom each and every time you have sex and avoid multiple sex partners. Always make sure your partner knows their STD status before having sex. Remember, gay and lesbian sexual activity can pass STDs just as easily as heterosexual sex.

Precautionary measures, recommended by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, can help to reduce your risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease. These include the following:

  • have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner
  • use (consistently and correctly) a male condom
  • use a barrier method for sex between females
  • don't inject drugs, or use sterile needles if injecting intravenous drugs
  • have regular checkups for STDs
  • learn the symptoms of STDs and seek medical help as soon as possible if any symptoms develop
  • use a condom during anal sex
  • avoid douching

How we care for STDs

The prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases is a top priority at Boston Children's Hospital. There are many different types of STDs with varying symptoms and severities, and Boston Children's has different programs that provide young people and parents with the testing, treatment, and counseling they need.

At the Division of Gynecology and the Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, we encourage parents to talk to their children about sex before they become teenagers or decide to have sex.

STD | Programs & Services