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STDs and Teens

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD

Common Treatable STDs

There are more than 20 types of known sexually transmitted diseases. These illnesses pass from one person to another, primarily through sexual contact, and can be caused by bacterial, parasitic or viral infection. The spread of many of STD-causing microorganisms can be prevented by the avoidance of sexual activity, or reduced by the proper use of latex (or polyurethane) condoms for all sexual contact. Prompt screening for and treatment of common STDs, such as chlamydia, also reduces the risk of spreading or contracting a more serious infection, such as HIV.

Chlamydia, the most commonly reported bacterium-related STD in the US, is caused by the bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. An estimated 2.8 million Americans are infected with chlamydia each year, but many do not seek treatment because the symptoms often are mild or absent. The highest rates of infection are among adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age. Chlamydia can spread during any kind of sexual contact; the risk of infection can be reduced by correct use of latex (or polyurethane) condoms. Even though initial symptoms may be negligible, the infection is particularly dangerous to women, because it can damage a woman’s reproductive organs and cause serious problems, such as infertility, ectopic (outside the uterus) pregnancy and recurrent pelvic pain. Chlamydia can be treated and cured effectively with antibiotics.

Gonorrhea is an infection of the reproductive tract, mouth or anus caused by the bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. More than 700,000 persons in the US are infected with gonorrhea each year. Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact. Several antibiotics can be used to cure this infection, but drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are becoming more prevalent in many parts of the world. Correct use of latex (or polyurethane) condoms reduces the risk of contracting gonorrhea.

Herpes is caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes infections around the mouth (cold sores) usually are caused by a strain of the virus called HSV type 1. Another variant of the virus, HSV 2 typically infects the genitals and anal area. HSV can be transmitted through any kind of sexual contact, including oral sex, and can spread even when sores are not present. Once a person is infected, the virus will remain in certain nerve cells of the body for life. There is no cure for herpes, but some antiviral medications can shorten or prevent outbreaks. Condom (latex or polyurethane) use reduces, but does not eliminate the risk of contracting HSV.

Human papillamoviruses (HPV) are common viruses that cause warts. About 30 types of HPV are transmitted sexually, and as many as 24 million Americans are infected. Some forms of HPV are linked specifically to the development of cervical cancers in women. Precancerous changes in the cervix can be detected by a Pap smear (a simple test performed in a doctor’s office). A new vaccine, Gardasil®, protects against four types of HPV that collectively cause 70% of HPV-related cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. Correct use of latex (or polyurethane) condoms reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of contracting or spreading HPV infection.

Trichomoniasis is caused by a single-celled parasite belonging to the protozoan group. It is the most common, curable STD in young, sexually active women. This disease also affects men, but the symptoms (irritation and yellowish discharge) are more common in women. Trichomoniasis usually can be cured with a prescription antibiotic. The use of latex condoms reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of transmission.