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  • Privacy, confidentiality, and legal disease reporting concerns affect detection and treatment.

  • Suspicion or diagnosis of one sexually transmitted disease (STD) should prompt screening tests for others.

  • Diagnosis of an STD should always include identification and treatment of partners and education to reduce risk of future infection.


Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) include sexually transmitted infections and the clinical syndromes they cause. There are an estimated 20 million new STDs in the United States annually, and the three nationally reported STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) reached 2 million in 2016, the highest number ever.

Although all sexually active individuals are susceptible to infection, adolescents and young adults are most commonly affected. Reasons for this include (1) an attitude of invincibility, (2) lack of knowledge about the risks and consequences of STDs, and (3) barriers to healthcare access.

This chapter emphasizes the clinical presentation, diagnostic evaluation, and treatment of STDs commonly found in the United States. Readers of this chapter should be able to:

  • Differentiate common STDs on the basis of clinical information and laboratory testing.

  • Treat STDs according to current guidelines.

  • Intervene in patients’ lives to reduce risk of future STD acquisition.

The discussion draws greatly from the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for treatment of STDs. The authors are indebted to the individuals who worked to develop these recommendations.

Federal and state laws create disease-reporting requirements for many diseases that can be spread sexually. Gonorrhea; chlamydia; chancroid; syphilis; hepatitis A, B, C; and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV; including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS]) are all nationally notifiable. Clinicians should contact their local health department for pertinent reporting information.

Privacy and confidentiality concerns are different for STDs than for general medical information. Patients generally experience greater anxiety about information pertaining to a possible diagnosis of an STD, and this may limit their willingness to disclose clinically pertinent information. Conversely, legal requirements for disease reporting and health department partner notification programs can inadvertently compromise patient confidentiality if not handled with the utmost professionalism. Furthermore, although minors generally require parental consent for nonemergent medical care in all states, minors can be diagnosed and treated for STDs without parental consent. Additionally, many US states’ legislations may permit physicians to prescribe treatment for the heterosexual partners of men or women with chlamydia or gonorrhea without examining the partner. Thus, laws in different jurisdictions create additional options and complexities in treating STDs. Practitioners need to be familiar with local requirements.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC fact sheet: reported STDs in the United States, 2016. Accessed November 11, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2016. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2017.

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