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Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis

What are gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis?
What causes gonorrhea and chlamydia?
Where do these infections occur?
What are the symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia?
How are gonorrhea and chlamydia diagnosed?
What complications are associated with infection with…
How is infection with gonorrhea and chlamydia treated?
What causes syphilis?
How is syphilis spread?
What are symptoms of syphilis?
How is syphilis diagnosed?
What are complications of syphilis?
How is syphilis treated?
Can these diseases be prevented?
Is screening for these diseases recommended?

What are gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis?

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These three sexually transmitted diseases can cause serious, long-term problems if they are not treated, especially for teenagers and young women.

What causes gonorrhea and chlamydia?

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both caused by bacteria. The bacteria are passed from person to person through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Where do these infections occur?

Gonorrhea and chlamydia infections can occur in the mouth, reproductive organs, urethra, and rectum. In women, the most common place is the cervix (the opening of the uterus).

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea and chlamydia?

Often, women with gonorrhea or chlamydia have no symptoms. When symptoms from the infection do occur, they may show up 2 days to 3 weeks after infection. Symptoms may be very mild and can be mistaken for a urinary tract infection or vaginal infection.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Painful or frequent urination
  • A yellow vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain.

At what age do these infections most commonly occur?

Gonorrhea and chlamydia can occur at any age, but women 25 years and younger are at greater risk.

How are gonorrhea and chlamydia diagnosed?

To diagnose gonorrhea or chlamydia,

  • Your healthcare professional may take a sample of cells from your throat, cervix, urethra, or rectum. 
  • A urine test can also detect gonorrhea and chlamydia.

What complications are associated with infection with gonorrhea and chlamydia?

  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • PID occurs when the infection form the STD moves from the vagina and cervix up into the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes.
  • It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before PID symptoms to develop after infected.

How is infection with gonorrhea and chlamydia treated?

Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are treated with antibiotics.

What causes syphilis?

Syphilis is caused by bacteria. Syphilis occurs in stages, which is different than gonorrhea and chlamydia. In certain stages, syphilis can be spread more easily than other stages.

How is syphilis spread?

  • Syphilis is spread when the bacteria that causes syphilis enters the body through a cut or sore on the skin. These sores commonly occur on the vulva, vagina, anus, or penis, which means syphilis is most often spread through sexual contact.
  • During the secondary stage of syphilis, the disease can be spread by touching the rash, warts, or infected blood. Syphilis sores are called chancres.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Symptoms differ by stage:

  • Primary stage – Syphilis first appears as a painless chancre (sore)
    • Left untreated, the sore will go away on its own in 3-6 weeks.
  • Secondary stage – The next stage occurs as the chancre is healing
    • Or several weeks after the chancre has disappeared, when a rash may appear
    • The rash usually appears on the palms and soles of the hands and feet
    • Flat warts may be seen on the vulva
    • There may be flu-like symptoms during this stage
    • This stage is highly contagious.
  • Latent and late stages – The rash and other symptoms go away in a few weeks. However, the disease is still present in the body.
    • If left untreated, the disease may return in the most serious form years later.

How is syphilis diagnosed?

  • Within the early stages, discharge from open sores is examined to see if syphilis bacteria are present.
  • A blood test can be done in later stages to check for antibodies to the bacteria.

What are complications of syphilis?

Late-stage syphilis is a serious illness.

Medical symptoms include:

  • Neurologic problems
  • Heart problems
  • Tumors – Leading to blindness, brain damage, paralysis, and even death
  • Also, the genital sores make you more susceptible to becoming infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Long term problems can be prevented if syphilis is caught and treated early. The length of treatment will differ from case to case.

Can these diseases be prevented?

You can take these steps to avoid getting gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis:

  • Use a condom
    • Male and female condoms help protect against STDs.
  • Limit your sexual partners
    • The more sexual partners one has over a lifetime, the higher the risk of getting STDs.
  • Know your partner
    • Ask about your partner’s sexual history and whether they have or have had STDs. Even if they have no symptoms, they may still be infected.
  • Avoid contact with any sores on the genitals.

Is screening for these diseases recommended?

Annual screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia is recommended for these age groups:

  • Teenagers and women aged 25 years and younger who are sexually active
  • Women older than 25 if they have risk factors
  • Teenagers and women should also be tested for syphilis if they are at high risk of this STD.