Early and rapid diagnosis of STIs increases the chance to limit their negative health effects. Left untreated, STIs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV), can lead to devastating and sometimes long-term complications. These complications include blindness, bone deformities, brain damage, cancer, heart disease, infertility, birth defects, intellectual and developmental disability, and even death.
Healthcare providers diagnose STIs through physical examination, blood tests, or swabbed cultures. Diagnosis of STIs by self-obtained vaginal swabs was the focus of an NIAID-supported workshop. However, many people infected by an STI have little or no symptoms of the infection. NIAID scientists are conducting immunology studies to address why many STIs in people are asymptomatic. These studies may also uncover how infections mutation contributes to STI drug resistance and the processes associated with repeat infection and coinfection (for example, syphilis and HIV).