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What Do the Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Look Like?

By Rick Sowadsky, MSPH, Senior Communicable Disease Specialist, Nevada State Health Division

January 2010

The following are the some of the symptoms of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital warts, scabies and herpes. Since symptoms can vary from person to person, and since these symptoms can resemble the symptoms of many other illnesses, you CANNOT diagnose a sexually transmitted disease (STD) based on these pictures! These pictures are to be used as a general guide only! Remember, ONLY a doctor can diagnose a sexually transmitted disease.

WARNING: These pictures are very graphic.

SYPHILIS

To find out if you have syphilis, the doctor must do a blood test. Syphilis is easily treated with penicillin. However, left untreated, syphilis is a deadly disease, and can kill a person years after infection. The first sign of syphilis is often a sore that doesn't hurt and goes away even if you don't take any medicine. This sore is called a chancre. It usually appears on the penis, vagina, or rectum. Syphilis is most easily spread when someone has a chancre.

There is usually only one chancre, but sometimes there are more. The chancre is usually round. It often looks like several layers of skin are missing. Women who don't get treated for syphilis can give it to their unborn babies. Often these babies are born dead or have brain damage!



These are other signs of syphilis:

A rash on the bottom of the feet or the palms of the hands are another symptom of syphilis. You cannot get syphilis by touching the skin of someone with this rash, unless there are open sores.

Most men and women with syphilis will go through a period of time when they have no signs of syphilis. They don't feel sick, BUT they still have syphilis. This can happen after the chancre has gone away, but before the rash appears. This can also happen after the rash goes away or their hair starts growing back.

Syphilis can also be transmitted via unprotected oral sex, from genitals to mouth or mouth to genitals.


GONORRHEA AND CHLAMYDIA


The man in this picture has gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both bacteria and easily treated. The symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia are very similar. Men and women often complain of a discharge, frequent urination, or burning when they urinate. In gonorrhea, the discharge is often white. In chlamydia, the discharge is usually clear. Very often people infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia may not have any symptoms! Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are spread by coming in contact with the discharge. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be transmitted from genitals to mouth and from mouth to genitals during oral sex that is unprotected. If a woman is not treated for either of these diseases, it could lead to a severe infection in her reproductive organs which could cause infertility.


GENITAL WARTS

Genital warts are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus. The warts can be removed, but the person will have the virus for the rest of their life. It is very common for the warts to reappear after they have been removed. Genital warts are spread by coming in contact with the wart, but often the warts can not be seen. Genital warts can also differ in appearance.

The warts can be removed, but there is no cure for this disease! In addition, using a condom will not prevent transmission of the virus if the condom does not completely cover the warts.



SCABIES

The scabies mite can be transmitted during sex, or close physical contact with a friend or family member. They burrow under the skin and cause severe itching. This can produce sores.

Scabies is easily treated with a special cream and by washing all clothes and bedding.



HERPES

Herpes is caused by a virus. There are two types of herpes: herpes simplex virus-1 and herpes simplex virus-2. You can get both types by having sex. The symptom of both types of herpes is a group of small sores or blisters that hurt. Sometimes the sores cannot be seen. Herpes is usually spread by coming in contact with the sores. Sometimes herpes can be spread even when the sores are gone. Medicine can be given to make the sores go away faster, but the person will have the virus the rest of their life.

The picture at left is an example of someone with anal herpes lesions. Some people have an outbreak of sores on a regular basis.


Where to get more information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases

  1. Call the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. You can call them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-342-AIDS (2437).

  2. Send us a public question here at The Body. The website address is http://www.thebody.com/Forums/AIDS/SafeSex/index.html. Your e-mail address and name will NOT be revealed to anyone. Please make sure that your question does not already appear on our Ask the Expert page. Similar or identical questions will be posted on the website only once. This is to keep the website as readable as possible, and to make the website easier for people to use. To leave a question here, click on "ask a question" on this web page. The answer to your question will be posted as soon as possible.

  3. For more information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, see our Frequently Asked Questions page.




This article was provided by Rick Sowadsky, M.S.P.H.. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:
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