3 STDs That Can Kill You (and How to Protect Yourself)

Most people talk about STDs like they’re a joke because some of the symptoms can be pretty embarrassing.  They’re no laughing matter, though, and some can plague you for the rest of your life. In some cases, they can even be deadly. Since more than 13 million people in the U.S. are affected by sexually transmitted diseases every year, According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it’s crucial to know which ones pose the greatest risk. While these three STDs might not be a guaranteed death sentence, they can be fatal.

1. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

red aids ribbon

A ribbon for AIDS awareness | iStock.com/4421010037

The reason you hear so much about HIV is because, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, it destroys the cells that help our bodies fight off disease and infections. This weakened immune system makes you more susceptible to serious conditions like cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and either one is a cause for concern.

AIDS.gov says AIDS is the final stage of HIV, the point at which the immune system is weak enough that you’re incredibly vulnerable to illnesses that can be life-threatening like tuberculosis and recurrent pneumonia. If patients diagnosed with AIDS who aren’t receiving treatment fall ill with one of these conditions, their life expectancy drops to just one year.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for HIV. However, the virus is treatable and many people live full, healthy lives. Obviously prevention is best, so speak with your doctor about measures you can take to help reduce your risk.

2. Hepatitis B

Hepatitis written on a clipboard

A clipboard with symptoms for Hepatitis | iStock.com/Zerbor

Most people probably received the hepatitis B vaccine series when they were still babies, but there’s still some risk of contracting it. According to the CDC, Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that’s often spread through sexual conduct, at least among adults. Some are lucky enough that the infection clears up after six months, but others develop chronic hepatitis. This long-lasting liver infection can cause cirrhosis, which the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains is liver breakdown that may lead to further problems, such as diabetes, lung and kidney failure, and liver cancer. To lower your risk, make sure to get vaccinated, use condoms, and try to limit sexual partners as much as possible.

3. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV vaccine in a vial next to a syringe

Vial filled with HPV vaccine | iStock.com

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection that’s part of a group of more than 200 related viruses, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than 40 of these viruses can spread through sexual contact. Since there are many different types, HPV doesn’t always result in the same outcome. In fact, the CDC says most cases are harmless and can go away on their own. But if they don’t, that’s when they can be troublesome.

When HPV remains in the body it can cause genital warts or even lead to cancer. The CDC mentions, while cervical cancer isn’t the only type of cancer that can result from HPV, it’s the most common type linked to the virus. And just like any other cancer, it can be deadly. To protect yourself from HPV, speak with your doctor about getting vaccinated and practice safe sex.