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THRIVE Clinic HIV and STI Fast Facts

Welcome to the THRIVE Clinic’s HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Fast Facts!

The goal of this page is to help members of our community find basic information about HIV and STIs. Please talk with your provider as soon as possible if you have questions or concerns regarding your health! 

If you need help finding resources near you, please contact the THRIVE Clinic at (617) 533-2228.


What is HIV/AIDS?

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that breaks down the immune system, making it easy to get sick and even die from infections that the body is no longer able to fight off. If left untreated, HIV can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the disease caused by the damage of HIV to the immune system. It is the most serious stage of HIV, often leading to death.

How does HIV spread?

  • HIV is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, anal mucus, blood, and breastmilk. The virus can enter through cuts, sores, or mucous membranes.
  • Certain activities can transmit HIV like:
    • Vaginal or anal sex (typical way it’s spread)
    • Sharing needles or syringes for drug use or tattooing tools
    • Getting stuck with a needle that has HIV-infected blood on it
    • Getting HIV-infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids in an open cut/sore on the body
  • HIV can also be passed to babies during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
  • It is important to note, that HIV cannot be spread from saliva, sharing food or eating utensils, kissing, hugging, handholding, coughing, or sneezing. You also cannot get HIV from a toilet seat.

What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

  • HIV
    • The first 2-4 weeks after being infected with HIV, someone may feel flu-like symptoms: feverish, achy, sick. This is the body’s immune system reacting to the virus. This time period is also the easiest time to spread HIV, since there is a lot of the virus in the body.
    • These symptoms can last for a few weeks and then one will usually feel better and not have symptoms for years. HIV can be spread whether or not you feel sick.
  • Late HIV/AIDS
    • AIDS can set in about 10 years after getting HIV. The signs of AIDS are numerous, but can include:
      • Getting bad infections frequently
      • Feeling tired, dizzy, lightheaded
      • Sore throat
      • Thrush (a thick, white coating on tongue or mouth)
      • Fast weight loss
      • Bruising more easily than normal
      • Swollen glands in throat, armpit, or groin

Are there treatments/cures for HIV/AIDS?

  • There is no cure for HIV. However, there are treatment medications to help manage and lower the amount of HIV in the body. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of medicines that slows down the effects of HIV in the body and can keep one healthy for years. It can also help lower or stop the chances of giving HIV to others.
  • ART works by lowering the amount of HIV in the body (the viral load); sometimes to the point of tests not being able to see the virus (aka being “undetectable”). However, even if someone is determined to be “undetectable”, HIV is still in the body. If the ART treatment is stopped, the viral load can go up and make it more likely to pass HIV to others.
  • Maintaining overall health can be helpful too.

How can you prevent HIV/AIDS?

  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): a once-daily pill that prevents getting HIV by 99%. Get help connecting to PrEP
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): a series of pills taken after an HIV exposure. It lowers the chance of getting HIV. It must be taken within 72 hours (3 days) after the exposure. The sooner, the better. PEP is only for emergencies and doesn’t take the place of condoms.
  • For people living with HIV, they can have a normal and healthy sex life. Some important precautions to help partners stay HIV-free can be:
    • Always using a condom with vaginal, anal, and oral sex
    • Start HIV treatment (ART) as soon as possible
    • Don’t share needles for drug use, piercings, or tattoos
    • Get tested for other STI’s regularly. Having an STI and HIV can make it easier to spread HIV.
  • For those who don’t have HIV, some ways to prevent include:
    • Always using condoms during vaginal, anal, and oral sex
    • For those at higher risk, taking PrEP daily
    • Get tested for HIV & STI’s regularly
    • Don’t share needles for drug use, piercings, or tattoos


Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

What is BV?

  • BV is not technically an STI, however sex can lead to BV when there is an imbalance of a certain bacteria in the vagina. It is the most common vaginal condition for people with vaginas aged 15-44.

How does BV spread?

  • The spread of BV is not completely known, however sex can cause this imbalance.

What are the symptoms of BV?

  • Symptoms can include:
    • Thin white or gray vaginal discharge
    • Pain, itching, or burning in vagina, or outside of vagina
    • Strong, fish-like odor; especially after sex
    • Burning feeling while urinating


  • BV can often go away on its own. However, a medical provider can treat BV with antibiotics. BV can return after treatment.
  • If untreated, BV can cause some health risks, including:
    • Increased risk of HIV or STI’s
    • If pregnant, can cause early delivery
    • Onset of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility

How to prevent BV?

  • BV can be prevented by:
    • Limiting number of sex partners
    • Using condoms correctly each time
    • Not douching or use douching products
    • Avoiding vaginal sex


What is Chlamydia?

  • Chlamydia is a common and curable STI that affects people with penises and vaginas.

How does it spread?

  • It spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has it. If having sex with a partner who has a penis, chlamydia can be transmitted whether they ejaculate (cum) or not. Pregnant people with chlamydia can pass it to their newborn through childbirth.

What are the symptoms?

  • Common symptoms can include:
    • Abnormal vaginal or penile discharge
    • Burning sensation when urinating
    • Pain or swelling in one or both testicles
    • Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding
    • No noticeable symptoms


  • Chlamydia can be cured with the antibiotics prescribed by a medical provider. It is important to take all the medication your doctor prescribes. It is possible to get chlamydia again if you’ve had it in the past.
  • If untreated, chlamydia can cause health issues, like:
    • PID
    • Infertility
    • Increase risk of getting or giving HIV or other STI’s

How to prevent it?

  • Chlamydia can be prevented by:
    • Using a latex or non-latex condoms (except lambskin condoms) every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex


What is it Gonorrhea?

  • Gonorrhea can infect people of any gender, most commonly those aged 15-24. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat.

How does it spread?

  • It can spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Pregnant people with gonorrhea can pass it to their newborn through childbirth.

What are the symptoms?

  • Some people don’t experience any symptoms, but commonly reported symptoms can be:
    • Painful or burning sensation with urination
    • Increased vaginal discharge
    • White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
    • Painful or swollen testicles
    • Vaginal bleeding in between periods
    • Rectal: discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, painful bowel movements


  • Gonorrhea can be cured with the right medication. All of the medication must be taken in order to completely cure the infection. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with medication, so if symptoms persist after a few days of receiving treatment, return to your health care provider.
  • If untreated, people with uteruses can develop PID, with symptoms like:
    • Developing scar tissue that blocks the fallopian tubes
    • Ectopic pregnancy
    • Infertility
    • Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain
    • Increased risk of HIV transmission
  • For people with penises, the vas deferens (tubes) can become attached to the testicles. This can be painful and cause infertility. There’s also a higher risk of HIV transmission.

How to prevent it?

  • The best ways to prevent gonorrhea include:
    • Using a latex or non-latex condoms (except lambskin condoms) every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex

Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Hep B is one of three main strains of Hepatitis that causes liver disease. The other common strains are Hep A & B.

How is it spread?

  • It is most easily transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. It can also be transmitted to infants in childbirth.

What are the symptoms?

  • Often, people with Hep B don’t have symptoms. However, common signs and symptoms can be:
    • Feeling very tired
    • Abdominal pain
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Joint pain
    • Headaches
    • Dark-colored urine
    • Jaundice (yellow color to skin and eyes)
    • Pale, clay-colored bowel movements


  • There is no cure for Hep B. However, for many adults, it goes away on its own in 4-8 weeks. Some people who get Hep B can become “carriers”, meaning they will have long-lasting infection. Carriers can pass Hep B to others. There are medication treatments for those with chronic Hep B.
  • For those with untreated chronic Hep B, health issues like developing liver disease or liver cancer can occur. It best to avoid consuming alcohol, as that can cause more damage.

How to prevent it?

  • To prevent Hep B, it is best to get the available vaccine.
  • You can continue to protect yourself from Hep B & other STI’s by consistently and correctly using condoms or dentals dams during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
  • Injection drug users should also avoid sharing needles or snorting instruments, to decrease the risk of exposure.


What is it?

  • A very common viral STI that has two main strains: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Oral herpes is caused by HSV-1 and genital herpes is caused by HSV-2. People can get HSV-1 in the genital area and HSV-2 on or around the mouth.

How does it spread?

  • Herpes spreads through having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has herpes. More specifically, it spreads through a herpes sore, saliva, or skin around the area of infection (oral or genital areas).

 What are the symptoms?

  • Most people do not know they have herpes, as many people don’t experience symptoms. However, during an outbreak, some symptoms can include:
    • Single or cluster of painful blisters/sores around the mouth, genitals, or rectum.
    • Trouble with urinating (pee that encounters a sore)
    • Genital pain (irritation, swollen glands)
    • Flu-like symptoms (swollen glands, fever, chills, headache, feeling tired or achy)
  • The first outbreak can occur as soon as 2-20 days after exposure. But it could take years for a first outbreak. A typical outbreak can last 2-4 weeks. But once the blisters go away, the virus remains in the body and can cause future outbreaks. Usually, outbreaks become less frequent and less painful as time goes on.


  • There is no cure for herpes but there are a few methods of treatment, to manage it.
    • Prescribed or over-the-counter medications to help shorten & lessen the pain of outbreaks.
    • For genital herpes: taking a warm bath, wearing soft & loose clothes.
    • Keeping sore areas clean and dry (moistures makes the sores last longer).
    • Putting ice packs on sores to decrease pain.
    • Taking a pain reliever like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.

How to prevent it?

  • The best ways to prevent herpes include:
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex
    • If you or a partner has herpes, avoid sex during an outbreak, because it can spread more easily then.
    • Use condoms every time you have sex
  • It’s important to remember, that herpes sores can occur in the areas not covered by condoms. The virus can spread through dead skin cells that shed in the areas that don’t have active sores.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is HPV?

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI. It’s usually harmless and the body clears the infection on its own. However, there are many strains of HPV that can have health effects.
    • Some HPV types (types 6 and 11) cause genital warts, which are considered a low-risk HPV. They don’t lead to cancer or other serious problems. Wartz can be removed by a medical provider.
    • At least a dozen other HPV types (especially types 16 and 18) can sometimes lead to cancer. These are considered high-risk HPV. This can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.

How does it spread?

  • HPV spreads easily through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. It can be present on the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, anus, mouth, or throat. It can be spread even if no one cums and if a penis doesn’t go in the vagina/anus/mouth.

What are the symptoms?

  • Most people with HPV don’t have symptoms and won’t know they have it. Sometimes it’s only know after a serious health issue occurs from it. Regular check-ups are important to know the risk of cancer from HPV.
  • If you have types 6 or 11, genital warts can be a sign of an HPV infection.


  • There is no cure for HPV. However, there is a vaccine series that prevents multiple types of HPV.
  • Genital warts can be removed by a medical provider. However, that does not remove HPV from the body.

How to prevent it?

  • Get the vaccine
  • Use condoms or dental dams every time you have sex. Condoms aren’t as effective for preventing HPV, because it transmits by skin-to-skin contact, but condoms help lower the chances of getting it.
  • For those with a cervix, getting a regular pap smear test
    • A pap smear test, is when a nurse or doctor inserts a speculum in the vagina to expand the vaginal walls. This allows the provider to see into the vagina and cervix. Then, they collect cells from the cervix with a swab. It only takes a couple minutes to do the test and is relatively painless. Some people can feel discomfort or pressure when the speculum is inserted. The collection of cervical cells can feel like a light scratch.
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact by not having sex

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

What is it?

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the reproductive organs (vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries). Some STI’s like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause PID, as well as other non-sexually transmitted infections.

How does it spread?

  • Having an untreated STI
  • Having sex with more than one partner OR your partner has sex with others
  • Having a previous case of PID
  • Douching the vagina
  • Being 25 years old or under, and sexually active
  • Higher risk of PID during first 3 weeks of an IUD insertion

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain in lower abdomen
  • Fever
  • Unusual discharge with a bad odor from the vagina
  • Pain or bleeding with sex
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Bleeding in between periods


  • PID can be cured with an antibiotic treatment from a medical provider. However, treatment won’t undo any damage that occurred. If PID isn’t treated as soon as possible, complications and damage can happen.
  • If symptoms go away while taking medication, make sure to take all the prescribed medicine. This will make sure that the PID in completely treated.
  • If left untreated, complications can include:
    • Formation of scar tissue inside and outside of the fallopian tubes, which can cause tubal blockage and infertility
    • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus)
    • Infertility (inability to get pregnant)
    • Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain

How to prevent it?

  • The best ways to prevent PID include:
    • Using a latex or non-latex condoms (except lambskin condoms) every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex


What is it?

  • Syphilis is an STI that can cause reproductive organ and bodily issues. It has multiple stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary).
  • Primary usually presents as sores at the original site of infection. This is usually around the genitals, anus/rectum, or mouth. Sores can look firm, round, and painless (but not always).
  • Secondary can include a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. With these two stages, symptoms can be mild and may not be noticed.
  • Latent stage syphilis is the phase when there are no further signs/symptoms.
  • Tertiary is the final stage, where severe medical problems can occur. The heart, brain, and other organs can be affected by syphilis.

How does it spread?

  • It spreads by direct contact with a syphilis sore during sex. Sores appear on or around the penis, vagina, anus/rectum, lips, or inside the mouth.
  • It can also spread to an unborn baby if the pregnant person has syphilis.
  • Syphilis IS NOT spread through casual contact like, sharing food/utensils, hugging, coughing, sitting on toilet seats, sharing towels.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms vary depending on the stage of syphilis:

  • Primary:
    • Single or multiples sores, where syphilis entered the body. Sores can be firm, round, and painless (but not always). They can easily go unnoticed, are very contagious, and can last for 3-6 weeks.
    • Even after a sore goes away, treatment is still needed. This will stop the infection from continuing to further stages.
  • Secondary:
    • Skin rashes or mucous membrane lesions. These can be in the mouth, vagina, or anus. Rashes can appear after initial sores go away. Rashes can look rough, red, or reddish brown spots on palms or bottoms of the feet. It usually won’t itch and can often be faint enough that you don’t notice it.
    • Other symptoms can include: fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, weight loss, fatigue, and muscle aches.
    • Any of these symptoms will go away whether or not treatment is given. However, without treatment, the infection will keep progressing to latent or tertiary stages.
  • Latent:
    • A period of time when no visible symptoms show. Syphilis is still in the body at this stage and requires treatment.
  • Tertiary:
    • This stage can damage different body organ systems, like the heart, blood vessels, the brain, and the nervous system.
    • This stage is very serious and could occur 10-30 years after the infection began. Internal organs are damaged and can result in death.
    • Issues of the brain and nervous system can include:
      • Severe headaches
      • Difficulty coordinating muscle movements
      • Paralysis (not able to move certain parts of the body)
      • Numbness
      • Dementia


  • Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics prescribed by a medical provider. However, treatment might not undo any damage that occurred during the infection.
  • Having it once doesn’t protect from getting it again. Someone can still be re-infected after it is cured.
  • To identify syphilis, a medical provider will either do a blood test or take a sample of fluid from an active sore.

How to prevent it?

  • The best ways to prevent syphilis include:
    • Using a latex or non-latex condoms (except lambskin condoms) every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex

If you have syphilis:

  • Inform current and past partners, so they can get tested and treated.
  • Informing others of an STI diagnosis is always hard but doing so shows you care and helps the other person get treated quickly if needed. Syphilis is very common and easily cured, so try not to stress too much about this conversation.
  • Don’t have sex with anyone until the treatment is completely finished and any syphilis sores are fully healed.
  • Any sex partners should be tested and treated before having sex with anyone else.


What is Trichomoniasis?

  • Also known as “trich”, is a very common STI that is caused by a parasite. Symptoms can vary, but most people with trich can’t tell they’re infected.
  • It is typically more common in people with vaginas than with people who have penises.
  • Trich is also a common cause of vaginitis (vulvar or vaginal irritation).

How does it spread?

  • Trich is caused by a parasite called trichomona. It’s spread through unprotected sex. It is transmitted from semen, pre-cum, and vaginal fluids coming in contact with the penis, urethra, vulva, or vagina.
  • Trich doesn’t usually affect other body parts like the anus or mouth.
  • It can’t be spread through casual contact like: sharing food/drinks, hugging, kissing, coughing, or sitting on toilet seats.

What are the symptoms?

  • About 70% of people with trich don’t have any symptoms. However, when symptoms show, this can include:
    • Itching or irritation inside the penis, burning or irritation/redness of vulva or vagina
    • Discomfort or burning with urination
    • Discharge from the penis
    • Change in vaginal discharge (thin or increase in volume). This may have a yellow, greenish, or white color with a fishy odor.


  • Trich is usually very easy to cure and treat with antibiotics prescribed by a medical provider.
  • If treated for trich, it’s important for any partners to get treated as soon as possible. A provider may give medicine for both you and your partner.

How to prevent it?

  • The best ways to prevent trich include:
    • Using a latex or non-latex condoms (except lambskin condoms) every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex
    • Getting frequently tested for STI’s
    • Avoiding vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • If you have trich:
    • Inform current and past partners, so they can get tested and treated.
    • Don’t have sex with anyone until the treatment is completely
    • Any sex partners should be tested and treated before having sex with anyone else.

Sources (Hep B) (pap test)