Dear Kim,

I have heard of STD’s like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, but I don’t really know that much about each of them. What is the difference? What symptoms do each of them have, and how are they treated?

Sincerely,
STD Confusion

Dear Confusion,

It is easy to mix up all the different STDs – it’s a lot to keep track of. But don’t worry, I’ll help you out.

I guess we can start off with one of the most common – Chlamydia. An estimated 4 million people in the United States get Chlamydia yearly, according to the CDC; in 2017, the Connecticut DPH reported nearly 18,000 cases. That means there’s quite a bit of chlamydia out there!

Now, what are the symptoms of Chlamydia? Painful urination, unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, testicular pain in people assigned male at birth, and painful intercourse or bleeding between periods for people assigned female at birth are fairly common, so if you have any of those symptoms, definitely get tested as soon as possible. However, not everyone who gets chlamydia experiences symptoms – especially if it’s an infection in the throat or anus.

Syphilis isn’t as common as Chlamydia, but rates are increasing really fast in the US and Connecticut. 

Syphilis has three stages. The first, or primary, stage is the chancre sore, a painless bump which will clear up on its own after a while. It may be in a visible spot, like the tip of the penis, which makes it easy to see; but other times it could be inside the vagina or rectum, where you don’t notice it. 

Next, an infected person will move into the secondary stage, which normally presents with a rash, often on the bottoms of the feet and palms of the hands. This rash will also clear up on its own, but you still have syphilis.

If you don’t get treatment, syphilis can stay latent, or inactive, in your body for many years. Eventually, it can begin attacking your organs and brain in the third stage, leaving permanent damage or even death. 

Let’s talk about the symptoms of gonorrhea. The symptoms can actually be pretty similar to chlamydia – burning when urinating, unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, testicular pain, and bleeding between periods. Again, like other STDs, you may have no symptoms at all if you have gonorrhea – especially if the infection is in the throat or anus.

Since some of these STDs present with no symptoms, and are still contagious, the only way to know for sure if you have them is to get tested. The CDC recommends folks who are sexually active get tested every 6-12 months; also get tested if you may have been exposed to an STD or have a new partner. If you are having oral or anal sex, make sure you ask for throat and rectal swabs to test for infections in those spots.

All three of these STD’s are treatable with antibiotics. If you would like to schedule an STD test at the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, give us a call at 860-278-4163. Questions? Email me at kima@hglhc.org.

Be well, and be yourself!

Kim Adamski
HIV Prevention Specialist
Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective