Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections transmitted from an infected person to an uninfected person through sexual contact. STDs can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Examples include gonorrhea, genital herpes, human papillomavirus infection, HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, and syphilis.

Why Is the Study of Sexually Transmitted Diseases a Priority for NIAID?

STDs are an important global health priority because of their devastating impact on women and infants and their inter-relationships with HIV/AIDS. STDs and HIV are linked by biological interactions and because both infections occur in the same populations. Infection with certain STDs can increase the risk of getting and transmitting HIV as well as alter the way the disease progresses. In addition, STDs can cause long-term health problems, particularly in women and infants. Some of the health complications that arise from STDs include pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal or ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and perinatal or congenital infections in infants born to infected mothers.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

The ultimate objective of NIAID-supported research is to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches to control STDs. To develop these strategies, basic research is necessary toward understanding the structure, function, growth, pathogenesis, and evolution of STD bacterial, viral, parasitic, protozoan, and fungal agents. Another important aspect of basic research is to examine the impact of STDs in various populations.

NIAID work in genomic sequencing further accelerates STD biological research and discovery. NIAID has collected genomic data on STD pathogens and made it available to qualified researchers through public databases. Recent advances include the genomic sequencing of pathogens responsible for trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and human genital ulcer disease (chancroid). The sequencing of genomes allows researchers to read and decipher genetic data that may aid in the development of novel diagnostics, topical medications, and vaccines.

To learn about risk factors for STDs and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the MedlinePlus sexually transmitted diseases site.

N. gonorrhoeae bacteria

This Gram-stained cervical smear revealed the presence of a few Gram-negative diplococcal N. gonorrhoeae bacteria.

Credit: 

CDC
Prevention

A cornerstone of public health is disease prevention. Tools to prevent STDs, such as vaccines, topical microbicides, and behavioral interventions, are a vital part of protecting the public against infectious diseases. Gardasil, a vaccine against the four most common strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), is an exciting accomplishment in the field of STDs. However, the work to develop safe and effective vaccines against other STDs continues. Most notably are the ongoing clinical trials to evaluate an investigational vaccine to prevent genital herpes.

Diagnosis

Early and rapid diagnosis of STDs increases the chance to limit effects of the disease. Left untreated, STDs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus, can lead to devastating and sometimes long-term complications. These complications include blindness, bone deformities, brain damage, cancer, heart disease, infertility, birth defects, mental retardation, and even death.

Treatment

There are many different kinds of STDs, and the types of treatment are as varied as their symptoms. NIAID supports the development and licensure of vaccines, topical microbicides, and drug treatments, such as antibiotics and antifungals, for the microbes that cause STDs. No STD is harmless. Even the curable ones can cause serious consequences if left untreated. HIV is of particular concern as biological evidence demonstrates the increased likelihood of acquiring and transmitting HIV when STDs are present.

Disease-Specific Research

Some of the health complications that arise from STDs include pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal or ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and perinatal or congenital infections in infants born to infected mothers.

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