Knox County Health Department

Frequently asked questions

Who is at risk for STDs?

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for STDs. If you have sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with someone who is infected, the STD could be passed to you regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

How many people have STDs?

An estimated 55 million people in the U.S. have an STD; about 12 million acquire an STD each year. Teenagers account for one-fourth of new STD infections in the U.S. each year.

What causes STDs?

STDs are caused by a variety of organisms including bacteria, protozoa’s, viruses, and parasites (tiny insects). These organisms enter the body during sexual intercourse with an infected person.

Are STDs dangerous?

STDs are among the most important public health problems in the nation. STDs can cause infertility, premature and still births, infant pneumonia, eye infections leading to blindness, and even death. Some STDs are associated with certain types of cancer.

How do you get an STD?

In most instances, STDs are passed from an infected person to another person during sexual activities, through contact with the mucous membranes of the penis, vagina, mouth and rectum. Such activity includes vaginal, oral and anal intercourse. Gonorrhea and chlamydia also can be transmitted by fingers to eyes.

Can you get an STD without having sex?

Yes, some STDs can be transmitted without having sexual intercourse, but it is not common. For example, a baby could be infected by the mother before or during birth. Some parasites, like pubic lice (crabs) and scabies, can be passed by direct contact with an infected person or infested sheets, towels and clothing but this does not occur with bacteria or viruses such as HIV. STDs are NOT spread by touching doorknobs, toilet seats, drinking fountains, or eating utensils.

How will I know if I have an STD?

Many people do not notice any symptoms; some people may appear healthy even though they are infected. If you are unsure about your sexual health or suspect you may have been exposed to an STD, avoid sexual intercourse until you have been examined, and have been treated if necessary.

What should I do if I think I have an STD?

If you have symptoms of an STD or suspect you may have been exposed, you may be examined and treated at the health department, a clinic, or physician’s office.

If you are diagnosed with an STD, avoid having sex while you are being treated; always inform your sex partners so they can be checked and treated. It is very important that you finish taking all medicine prescribed, even if you have no more symptoms. Never take medicine prescribed for someone else; your infection may not be the same as theirs and might require different medication.

How can I avoid having an STD?

The best way to avoid having an STD is to avoid having sexual intercourse, or to have intercourse only with one mutually faithful uninfected partner. There is no risk of transmitting an infection if both partners are uninfected and have intercourse only with each other. If you have more than one partner or do not know if your partner is infected, use a latex condom every time you have intercourse to reduce the risk of infection. Birth control pills and other methods of contraception do not provide protection from STDs. Latex condoms used every time you have sexual intercourse may reduce the risk of HIV and some STD infections. Even a latex condom does not guarantee 100% protection.

How contagious is HIV?

Unlike common diseases like colds, flu, measles or chicken pox, HIV is not highly contagious. It is NOT transmitted through touching, hugging, sneezing, coughing, eating or drinking from common utensils, or being around an infected person. It is now clear that casual contact with a person with HIV infection does not place others at risk. No cases have been reported in which HIV has been transmitted through casual (nonsexual) contact to a household member, relative, co-worker, friend, teammate or student.

HIV is NOT transmitted through air, food, water, insects, or by contact with an object touched or breathed on by a person with HIV. There is no reason to fear becoming infected with HIV by using a public rest room or telephone, eating in a restaurant, riding in a taxi or bus, shopping, swimming in a pool or lake, sharing an office or a classroom.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV can be transmitted during direct contact with semen, vaginal secretions, or blood of an infected person in the following ways:

  • Sexual Activity: anal, vaginal, oral intercourse (male to male, male to female, female to  male, female to female)
  • Direct Blood Contact: sharing needles or other injection drug equipment, occupational exposures such as needle sticks or cuts, transfusion of blood or blood products
  • Perinatally: infected mother to baby before, during, or following birth through breastfeeding.

HIV must enter the body through a cut, puncture, or other break in the skin or through a mucous membrane such as the vagina, anus, opening in the penis, or mouth. There continues to be no evidence that HIV can be transmitted through air, water, food, or casual body contact.

Who is at risk for HIV infection?

Anyone who comes in contact with HIV-infected semen, vaginal secretions, and/or blood is at risk of becoming infected. The risk is increased because most people who have HIV feel fine (are asymptomatic), have not been tested, and do not realize they can infect others. Any form of unprotected sex could be risky, including oral sex; anal sex is especially risky for both males and females. Sharing injection drug equipment is also risky.

How can I reduce my risk of HIV infection?

HIV is transmitted through direct contact with semen, vaginal secretions, and blood through a break in the skin or a mucous membrane, most commonly by sexual contact and by sharing injection drug equipment.

To eliminate your risk:

Abstain from all sexual activity and injection drug use.

Maintain a sexual relationship with only one uninfected person who has no other sexual partner and does not share injection drug equipment.

To reduce your risk: 

Reduce the number of sexual partners to decrease the risk of exposure to HIV and other STDs.

Avoid unprotected anal, vaginal, and oral intercourse or other sexual practices that may result in contact with semen, vaginal secretions, or blood.

Avoid sharing needles and other equipment used for injecting drugs. Use a latex condom every time you have intercourse.

Is there a vaccine to prevent HIV infection?

At this time there is no vaccine to protect a person from HIV or AIDS. However, there is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B, another STD. Contact your physician or the county health department for information about hepatitis B vaccine.

Is there a cure for HIV infection or AIDS?

Currently there are no drugs available that have been proven to cure AIDS or eliminate HIV from the body. The search for effective treatments and cure is being pursued vigorously. Effective treatments for some rare infections and cancers that attack persons with HIV infection are available. Several drugs have been developed to inhibit the reproduction of HIV, which in turn delays or lessens the severity of symptoms. Some patients have experienced improvement of health, although others experience side effects such as severe headaches, nausea and/or anemia which cause them to stop treatment.

Can HIV be passed by kissing?

Although small amounts of HIV have been isolated in the saliva of some persons infected with HIV, kissing is not considered a high risk behavior. There are no documented cases of infection resulting from kissing.

Can mosquitoes transmit HIV?

No. There is no evidence that mosquitoes, other insects, or animals play a role in the transmission of HIV. In areas known to have many mosquitoes and high rates of HIV infection, studies have shown that only those individuals participating in sexual or injection drug activities were infected rather than those who were exposed only to mosquito bites, such as young children and elderly adults.

Why is anal intercourse so closely linked with the transmission of HIV?

The lining of the rectum is thin, easily torn and very absorptive. HIV enters the body through a break in the skin or mucous membrane; anal intercourse can result in tears or abrasions that allow direct semen-to-blood contact. Use of latex condoms and waterbased lubricants may reduce the risk of infection but will not guarantee complete protection. Anal intercourse is high-risk even when a condom is used.

Can HIV be transmitted through oral sex?

Yes, it is possible though not well documented. HIV can enter the body through mucous membranes such as the lining of the mouth, especially if there is an injury or open sore; any direct contact with semen, vaginal secretions, or blood of an infected person may increase the risk of HIV transmission. Use of non-lubricated latex condoms and dental dams (squares of latex) or other barriers are suggested to reduce the risk of transmission during oral sex.

Does having multiple sex partners increase the risk of HIV infection?

Having more than one sex partner increases the risk of HIV infection and of infection with other STDs including syphilis, gonorrhea, and herpes. The presence of other STDs also increases the risk of infection with HIV because of open sores. The more sexual partners you have, the greater the risk of infection with any STD, including HIV.

Is there a danger of contracting HIV from donating blood?

No. There has never been a risk of HIV infection associated with donating blood. Blood banks and other blood collection centers use only sterile equipment and disposable needles.

Are condoms effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection?

Latex condoms serve as a barrier to prevent the passage of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Preliminary studies outside the laboratory show that latex condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, risk of infection. Though condom effectiveness varies, experts agree that proper use, every time, will greatly reduce the risk of infection. Failure of a condom is more likely due to improper use than failure of the product, but both can occur. Novelty condoms are not recommended for protection against HIV and STD

Source: Chatham Councils.