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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Happy couple

An estimated one in five travelers say they had sex with a new partner while in a foreign country.1 The excitement of being in another country and meeting new people may encourage travelers to do things they would not do at home. Travelers who have unprotected sex (whether vaginal, anal, or oral sex) are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea. Many STDs can occur without any signs or symptoms, so you may not realize that you or your partner is infected.  While most STDs are treatable—some can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Preventing an STD is always best.

What can I do to prevent an STD?

If you have sex, use a condom every time, from start to finish. This includes vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

The only sure way to prevent an STD is to not have sex, including oral sex. However, if you are sexually active, here are other steps you can take to protect yourself:

Colorful condoms
  • Consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B before you travel.
  • Ask your doctor about an HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
  • Bring condoms from the United States, because those in other countries may not be up to US quality standards.
  • Don’t assume your partner is STD-free because s/he doesn’t mention it and STDs are often asymptomatic. Talk openly with him or her about your STD and HIV status and date of last testing.
  • Be cautious when having sex after drug or alcohol use. If you use alcohol or other drugs, you are more likely to take risks like not using a condom or like having sex with someone you normally wouldn’t have sex with.

What are the symptoms of an STD?

The symptoms of STDs are different depending on the infection. In fact, many STDs don’t cause any symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, you may experience:

  • Pain when you urinate or have sex
  • Discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
  • Unexplained rash, sore, or ulcer on your skin, genitals, or throat
  • Jaundice (yellow color of the skin and eyes)

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

Patient sitting on table in doctor's exam room

If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor about getting tested for STDs. Make sure to have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about your sexual history so he or she can determine the right STD tests for you.

Treating STDs early is important to prevent more serious and long-term complications, and prevent spreading infection to your partners. If you think you have an STD:

  • Do not have sex.
  • If you feel sick during your trip and think you may have an STD, see a doctor or nurse as soon as possible. See Getting Health Care Abroad.
  • Tell the doctor your recent sexual history and international travel (because some STDs may be more common in other countries).
  • If your doctor diagnoses you with an STD, notify your recent sex partner(s). Your partner(s) may also be infected and not know it and may need to get tested and treated.

For more information: Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Reference

1. Vivancos R, Abubakar I, Hunter PR. Foreign travel, casual sex, and sexually transmitted infections: systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2010;14(10):e842–51.

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