What are the symptoms of common STDs?


Specific causes and symptoms associated with some of the more common STDs are described below. However, in general, if you experience any of the symptoms listed in the previous section, visit your clinic or hospital for a check-up.

    Chancre � Chancre, caused by bacteria, results in one or more ulcer(s) (open sores) on the genitals within a week after exposure, as well as swollen lymph nodes on one or both sides of the groin. Sometimes the lymph nodes swell and form an abscess. The condition can be extremely painful, but can easily be treated with antibiotics.

    Chlamydia � Chlamydial infections often have no symptoms, and may occur alongside other STDs, such as gonorrhea. However, chlamydia can sometimes cause pain when urinating in both men and women, as well as abnormal discharge from the tip of the penis or the vagina. Chlamydia can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease (including chronic pain in the abdomen and abnormal menstruation) in women, which can be very painful and can lead to inability to bear children. Chlamydia can be easily treated with antimicrobial drugs, but both partners should be treated to avoid re-infection.

    Gonorrhea � Gonorrhea, also called �the clap,� is a very common STD, and frequently occurs as co-infection with chlamydia. Men with gonorrhea often experience discharge from the end of their penis, and feel pain when urinating. In women, gonorrhea has no symptoms in almost 70% of cases, but some women experience unusual vaginal discharge, or have pain when urinating and have to urinate more often than normal. Occasionally, gonorrheal infection can spread through the body and cause sores like pimples on many different parts of the body including hands, back, legs, and shoulders, as well as cause a rash or arthritis-like symptoms. Treatment is simple: gonorrhea is easy to cure with antibiotics, but both partners need to be treated or re-infection will occur.

    Genital warts (or HPV) � Genital warts are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus. The virus is extremely contagious: genital warts are one of the most common STDs. Warts can affect the penis or anal area in men, and the outer areas of the vagina, the anal area, and even the surface of the cervix and inner walls of the vagina in women. Genital warts are often painless and can be hard to see, however, they sometimes grow in number or size. They usually look like raised bumps or growths with a rough, uneven surface. Genital warts on the cervix tend to be flat, and can be hard to feel or notice. If left untreated over many years, HPV of the cervix can lead to cervical cancer. HPV infection of the cervix can be detected by having routine Pap smears every year or two. HPV infection cannot be cured, but warts can be removed with medical treatment (even though they often come back). If you have all your HPV warts removed, you are much less likely to infect your partner.

    Herpes � Herpes is caused by a virus, and unfortunately, there is no cure. Herpes causes multiple painful open sores on the penis or nearby areas (scrotum, anus, buttocks, or thighs) in men, or on the vulva and cervix, or nearby areas (anus, buttocks, or thighs) in women. Herpes sores tend to happen in outbreaks � a person might have multiple sores for a while, but they go away in 3 to 4 weeks, and come back a few months later. Outbreaks can happen at any time, but are encouraged by stress, poor nutrition, other illnesses, or physical weakness. When a person has herpes sores, he or she is much more likely to infect someone else if he or she has sex (or other intimate contact) with them. If a person has no sores, it is possible but not as likely that their sex partner will become infected. Sex with a condom when you are not experiencing a herpes outbreak is the best way to protect your sexual partner if you have herpes infection. If you have herpes sores, a condom is not effective in preventing transmission of herpes infection. While some medications are under development that can reduce the frequency of outbreaks, they are unfortunately hard to find in Ethiopia.

    HIV � Even though HIV can be transmitted in non-sexual ways, it is spread primarily through sexual activity in Ethiopia, and so it is considered an STI. When HIV has weakened the immune system so much that a person gets sick with other diseases easily, the person is said to have AIDS (considered an STD). HIV infection usually has no symptoms, but if you think you could have been exposed to the HIV virus (you had sex, especially unprotected sex, with a person who has HIV or AIDS, or who died from AIDS or unknown causes), you can increase your chances of living a long and healthy life by getting tested for HIV before symptoms of AIDS appear.

    Symptoms of AIDS can vary greatly. Usually, a person who has AIDS has a very weak immune system, and so they often get unusual diseases (called opportunistic infections) that an ordinary healthy person would not get. These diseases include untreatable yeast infections, rare cancers, rare pneumonias, active tuberculosis disease, and other chronic viral infections. People with AIDS often lose a lot of weight rapidly and for no apparent reason. Most opportunistic infections can be treated successfully, especially if they are treated early before the body gets too weak to handle strong medicines. For this reason, knowing your HIV status can do a lot to prolong your life by helping you change your behaviors, whether or not you have the virus. You can find out your HIV status for around 10 birr at places called voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) sites. Visit the AIDS Resource Center website (www.etharc.org) for contact information of VCT sites in Ethiopia.

    If you still have questions about HIV and AIDS, click here to read a list of FAQ�s about HIV and AIDS.

    Scabies � Scabies is caused by a mite, a small creature that lives in the skin around the genitals. It causes severe itching, especially during the night. Symptoms appear 2-6 weeks after contact with another person who has scabies. The infestation causes a rash on the fingers, wrists, and (in males) the penis, as well as blisters on these areas as well as elbows, armpits, (in females) breasts, abdomen, (in males) scrotum, buttocks, and/or thighs. Bathing frequently helps to reduce the bites and itching, but treatment with malathion or permethrin can kill the mites.

    Syphilis � Almost 1/3 of the world�s new syphilis cases each year occur in sub-Saharan Africa, making it one of the most common, and potentially most deadly, STDs in Africa. People infected with syphilis have symptoms early after infection, when the disease can be easily treated with penicillin or other common drugs. However, the longer a person has had syphilis, the harder it is to treat.

    9 to 90 days after a person is infected with syphilis, a person develops a single, round, open sore on the penis, vagina, or nearby area. It is usually painless, and heals in 3 to 10 weeks. Because it is painless and can sometimes occur in hard-to-see places (such as the cervix, underside of the penis, and inside the rectum, many people with syphilis never notice this stage. Four to eight weeks after the first open sore appears, many more appear (either as individual sores or a generalized rash) anywhere on the body.

    Syphilis eventually enters a long inactive, or latent, phase where no symptoms are noticed. After the latent phase, very serious symptoms appear, including blindness, insanity, paralysis, convulsions, and joint pain. At this point, syphilis is much harder to treat, and symptoms may not be reversible.

    Pregnant women are often tested for syphilis, as syphilis can be passed to the baby while the mother is pregnant, and can cause deformities, sores, blindness, and bone development problems in the baby.

    Trichomoniasis � Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite that lives in the tissue lining the vagina, penis, prostate, and semen ducts. In women, infection often causes a bad-smelling vaginal discharge, and sometimes itching, swelling, pain during sex, and pain while urinating. Still, some women may have no symptoms. In men, infection rarely causes any symptoms, though occasionally they may experience pain while urinating. Trichomoniasis is easily treated with a medicine called metronidazole, but both partners must be treated to prevent recurrence of the infection.


  • AIDS Resource Center
  • AIDS Resource Center
  • AIDS Resource Center
  • AIDS Resource Center
  • AIDS Resource Center
  • AIDS Resource Center