Is Blue Waffle a Real STD?

Chances are, if you have ever spent any time in a junior high or middle school, you may have heard whispers and rumors about blue waffle disease — some mysterious and horrible sexually transmitted infection that is apparently incredibly common that somehow only affects women (according to your local grade seven students, anyways).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that up to 1 in 5 Americans (20% of the population) have a sexually transmitted infection on any given day¹.

Most commonly impacting young people experimenting with new romantic partners, more than half of all new sexually transmitted diseases and infections (also known as STDs and STIs) are reported in people aged 15-24².

Despite its claimed danger and rampant prevalence, real-life cases of verified blue waffles still seem to evade medical practitioners — how is this possible?

As it turns out, not everything you see on the internet is true — and this could not be more true than in the case of the blue waffle hoax. Created as a joke in the early 2000s, this prank has found a way to permeate the cultural zeitgeist, likely due to its powerful shock value and limited access to sexual health education in schools.

So, while you may have grown up with concerns of possibly contracting a blue waffle infection, we can assure you that it should be the least of your worries when it comes to sexually transmitted infections — and education about real STDs and STIs is a valuable and essential step in protecting yourself and others from the spread!

Surprise — blue waffle is not a real infection

So, if blue waffle is not a real infection, how did this infamous fake infection become a popular point of discussion?

Started as a joke in September of 2008, the website “bluewaffle.net” was created to host a single image — a single image of a heavily edited vagina, appearing to be heavily infected and blueish/purple in color. Beneath the image, the site creators added a description, claiming that the picture was of “blue waffle disease,” a supposed sexually transmitted disease.

But, just having this site up would not have garnered much attention to the prank. So, in order to gain some traction, the site creators began to bait people into searching for blue waffle online, using images of real waffles edited to be blue with the caption, “Bet you can’t find me on Google image search!”

So, using this bait and switch tactic, people searched blue waffle on Google only to be led to the website — showing a horrible image of a “real” sexual disease that, as a result, became a cultural phenomenon. 

Unfortunately, as the prank gained more popularity, some people began believing it was a serious health concern. In 2013, a New Jersey councilwoman even went so far as to publicly announce that blue waffle disease had claimed the lives of 85 women and that there were active cases in the surrounding community³.

Still offering plenty of staying power almost ten years after its creation, Dr. Anita Ravi, MD, MPH, debunked the existence of blue waffle disease as part of her presentation to the Annals of Internal Medicine⁴.

So, as it turns out, blue waffle disease is decidedly NOT a sexually transmitted infection that you need to concern yourself with — but that doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. As STDs and STIs continue to rise worldwide, there has never been a better time to get educated about your risks and learn what you can do to keep yourself safe from potential exposure.

STD vs. STI — What is the difference?

While they may have a similar sounds name, there is an important distinction between a sexually transmitted disease and a sexually transmitted infection.

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is any disease spread from partner to partner through sexual contact⁵. STDs can be spread through various sexual contact points, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Examples of common sexually transmitted diseases include gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and genital herpes. For a person to be diagnosed with an STD, they must be experiencing symptoms from a sexually transmitted bacteria, virus, or parasite.

On the other hand, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) refers to the actual infection and passing on of the contagious pathogen. In most cases, people actually have an STI rather than an STD — which is one of the reasons why medical practitioners have switched to using this terminology when diagnosing their patients. Additionally, the term “infection” comes with a lot less social stigma, as infections are perceived as situations that can be cured, while the word “disease” can imply a more terminal and severe diagnosis.

Not all sex is risky

With cases of sexually transmitted infection on the rise, it can seem like there is no way to date without a high level of risk. But this doesn’t have to be the case!

Like other infectious diseases, STIs have a list of risk factors that can increase your risk of contracting an infection, including⁶:

  • Inconsistent use of protective barriers during sex (condoms, dental dams, etc.)

  • Increased number of sexual partners

  • Lesions or breaks in your skin barrier

  • The severity of your partner’s infection (higher viral or bacterial load increases your chance of infection)

Knowing these risk factors is valuable in reducing the spread of some of the most common STDs. Whenever possible, practicing safe sex, getting regularly tested, and being open and transparent with your sexual partners about your sexual history are essential steps for slowing the infection rate of STIs in your local community.

Real sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to look out for

So, now that we know that our risk of contracting blue waffle disease is effectively 0%, there is no better time to talk about the real sexually transmitted infections that you may come into contact with!

With over 68 million Americans having a sexually transmitted infection on any given day, here are some of the most common STIs that are worth knowing about¹:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and is the most common curable STD in the world⁷. Passed on to a partner through sexual activity, the bacteria can grow and spread from the cervix and uterus in women and from the urethra in men.

One of the primary reasons chlamydia infections are so common is that many people (particularly women) experience no symptoms due to an infection. For those symptomatic, it is common for the person to present with vaginal or penile discharge and a burn sensation in the affected area⁸.

If left untreated, chlamydia can cause various health complications, ranging from infertility to long-term pelvic pain and scarring⁸.

Chlamydia can be cured by taking antibiotics as prescribed by your primary care provider.

Gonorrhea

Also known as “the clap,” gonorrhea is a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria gonococcus. Capable of infecting a wide variety of skin tissues, it is common for people to develop gonorrhea symptoms in their genitals, rectum, and throat if they are directly exposed⁹.

Once infected, it is common for people to experience various symptoms, including pain while urinating and developing white, yellow, or green discharge from the impacted area⁹. In some cases, a person may also experience rectal bleeding and painful bowel movements⁹.

Also treated with antibiotics, recently, newer strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea have been making treatment of this common STD more and more difficult¹⁰. Further research is needed to find additional treatment options as more and more people develop infections that are non-responsive to current therapies.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

According to the CDC, bacterial vaginosis is the most common STD in women aged 15–44 years old¹¹. Caused by a bacterial imbalance within the vagina, common symptoms include burning and itching, gray discharge, and a strong and foul odor¹¹.

Interestingly, because bacterial vaginosis is not caused by one specific type of pathogen, there is debate about whether it can be characterized as a true STD. 

Thankfully, bacterial vaginosis can be treated and managed with antibiotics prescribed by your primary care provider, though the infection can return even after treatment.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes (caused by the herpes simplex II virus) is a common STD that can be spread through sexual activity or direct skin-on-skin contact. After exposure, it can take anywhere from two to 12 days for symptoms to arise, though roughly 90% of those with genital herpes experience very mild or no symptoms after an infection¹².

For those who do develop symptoms, they can be quite painful and debilitating. Genital herpes symptoms include long-lasting painful groin lesions, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches¹².

Unfortunately, we currently do not have a cure for genital herpes. Once a person is infected, they will cycle through periods of dormancy (no symptoms) and flare-ups (symptoms). During an outbreak, the symptoms can be managed with antiviral medications.

Genital herpes is still contagious even when a person does not have symptoms of the disease.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

As the most common STI in the United States, there are over 200 types of human papillomavirus¹³. Of these different virus types, only 40 types are capable of infecting human mucous membranes in the genitals, rectum, and mouth¹³.

Sometimes referred to as “the cervical cancer virus,” HPV symptoms and complications depend on the type of virus that infects your skin. In most cases, an HPV infection will result in no symptoms at all — but in the worst case, it can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, or penile cancer¹³.

There is currently no cure for an HPV infection, but its symptoms can be managed. Whenever possible, it is advised that 11- to 12-year-old children receive HPV vaccination to reduce their risk of developing an HPV infection later in life¹⁴.

Getting tested is key to preventing the spread

As STIs continue to rise, the push for improved sexual education and more regular testing has become essential in promoting improved overall public health. Because so many STIs do not cause symptoms, it can be challenging for a person to know if they are a carrier — all the more reason why regular testing is essential for preventing the spread.

In most cases, STI testing is done through blood work and a urine sample. And while more frequent testing is always encouraged for improved safety, the CDC suggests the following testing scheduled based on your sexual history and activity level¹⁵.

  • All adults and adolescents aged 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV and should be tested if they have been directly exposed to the virus

  • All sexually active women younger than 25 years should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia once a year

  • Any pregnant person should be tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C as early as possible during their pregnancy

  • All sexually active gay or bisexual men should be tested for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV at least once a year

  • All sexually active people who have sex with multiple anonymous partners should be tested more regularly (every 3–6 months, or more frequently depending on exposure)

If you are looking to be tested for sexually transmitted infections, there are a variety of different locations where you can receive treatment, including:

  • Your doctor’s office — Your primary care provider can prescribe or conduct STI testing in-office. Booking regular appointments with your provider can help to keep you on top of your testing.

  • Government-funded health clinics — For those without a primary care provider, government-funded sexual health clinics are available options to receive sexual health testing.

  • University campus health clinics — For university students, some campus clinics run sexual infection testing as part of their student wellness programs.

  • Pharmacies — In some cases, your local pharmacy may be able to offer STI testing. If your preferred pharmacy does not provide this service, other pharmacies in your area may be able to.

  • Non-profit organizations — For those with financial or social limitations that prevent STI testing at the above locations, non-profit organizations like Planned Parenthood offer free sexual health testing and education.

  • At-home testing — There is currently one FDA-approved at-home STI kit called the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test¹⁶.

The sexual health prank with a positive silver lining

So, just because the infamous blue waffle disease is not a real STD does not mean that you are completely in the clear when it comes to other much more real infections.

While the blue waffle hoax will go down in history as one of the most memorable sexual health pranks of our time, it has also offered plenty of opportunities for improved sexual health education and discussion — which, at the end of the day, is a great silver-lining to a viral joke!

Sources:
  1. 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted infection | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. Adolescents and young adults | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  3. New Jersey councilwoman victimized by 'blue waffle disease' April Fool's prank (2013)

  4. Annals on being a doctor story slam - How to treat blue waffle disease (2017)

  5. Sexually transmitted diseases | NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

  6. Risk factors predictive of sexually transmitted infection diagnosis in young compared to older patients attending sexually transmitted diseases clinics (2021)

  7. Genital chlamydia trachomatis: An update (2013)

  8. Chlamydia – CDC basic fact sheet | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  9. Gonorrhea – CDC basic fact sheet | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  10. Epidemiological trends of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea in the United Kingdom (2018)

  11. Bacterial vaginosis – CDC basic fact sheet | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  12. Genital herpes: Overview (2006)

  13. Human papillomavirus | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  14. HPV vaccine | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  15. Which STD tests should I get? | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  16. Test at home for HIV | OraQuick HIV Self-Test

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