Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by bacteria or viruses that can be passed on between individuals during sexual activities.STIs can be transmitted by genital skin-to-skin contact, oral sex, sexual intercourse and in some cases even kissing.
Both bacterial and viral STIs are contracted in similar ways.
Bacterial STIs and associated symptoms can be treated and cured with antibiotics.
Symptoms from viral STIs can be managed, however viruses are not living organisms and antibiotics will not have any therapeutic effect.
Currently, viral STIs can be suppressed but are not fully curable.
Condoms can help prevent STI transmission and should be incorporated properly into healthy sexual practices.
Why is it important to get tested for STIs?
STIs are very common! 376 million new STIs are detected each year.Themost common STIs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis,and Trichomoniasis.
The chances of getting an STI are high.One in two sexually active people will contract an STI by the age of 25.
STIs impact the sexual health of males and females and can impact fertility.
In males, STIs can cause inflammation of the urethra – the tube that urine and sperm pass through. If STIs are untreated, the infection can progress through the male reproductive tract, leading to potential pain, scarring, and fertility problems.
In females, STIs can cause inflammation of the urethra, as well as the cervix – the tissue at the junction of the vagina and uterus. If untreated, the STI can cause infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, commonly referred to as pelvic inflammatory disease.
Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scarring, chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and cause issues with pregnancy and childbirth.
How do I know I have an STI?
STIs can be symptomatic or asymptomatic.Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning that the infection does not cause any noticeable symptoms. The lack of noticeable symptoms is a major reason why STIs are continually spread, infecting more than one million people every day!.
If you do have symptoms, they may include:
sores or bumps on the genitals, mouth or rectal area
pain when urinating
unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
unusual vaginal bleeding
pain during sex
sore, swollen lymph nodes, especially in the groin
pain in the lower abdomen
rash on the body, hands or feet
Your local doctor (i.e. GP) can provide you with advice about being testedfor the presence of an STI and information regarding safe sexual practices.You can also visit a special sexual health clinic if you want to remain more anonymous. In addition, information regarding STIs can be found online.
The first and most important step in STI detection is being tested when appropriate. Talk to a health professional about how frequently you should get tested with respect to your sexual activity. It is generally recommended to get tested every 6-12 months if sexually active, or with every new partner and after unprotected sex.
Testing is available at your local practitioner or sexual health clinic.
Various samples may be collected depending on the STIs being tested for. STIs can be detected from urine samples, swabs (e.g. anal, penile or vaginal) and from blood samples.
Patient samples are sent for diagnostic testing that indicates if you are infected with an STI.
Once at a laboratory, samples are processed to release molecules such as DNA and RNA. The DNA and RNA molecules are different for each STI, and can be detected by a technique called ‘PCR’. This will indicate if a particular STI is present in a sample.
DNA and RNA molecules provide scientists with an accurate means of detecting bacterial or viral infections from an STI sample.
Bacterial STIs are treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin, tetracycline, and macrolides. Antibiotics are prescribed medications that can kill bacteria or slow their growth.
Before diagnosis, a doctor may treat you with antibiotics based on your symptoms according to local recommended guidelines.
After diagnosis, a doctor can further prescribe medication that is specific to the STI infection. An additional antibiotic may be prescribed if the STI infection is different from the initial suspected infection or if the STI is resistant to a specific antibiotic treatment.
It is important to attend all follow-up appointments to be sure your infection is treated properly.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an STI,it’s important to contact your recent sexual partners. This could include partners from within the last 6 months or longer depending on the STI detected – talk with your health professional about the right partner notification process for you.
STIs can cause serious health issues if not treated. Contacting your recent sexual partners is important because it can help prevent serious health issues, stop STIs spreading and prevent reinfection.There are anonymous messaging services, such as “Let Them Know” that can helpcontact sexual partners.
Antibiotics are not guaranteed to cure an STI infection. Antibiotic resistance is a serious global health issue and follow up antibiotic treatments may be required to cure an infection.
Talk with your health professional about when it’s appropriate to have sex again. STIs can still be passed on until treatment plans are completed. Your health professional may recommend undergoing a Test-of-Cure (TOC) to confirm that the infection has cleared. A TOC is basically a second STI test, and depending on the STI being tested for, a TOC may be undertaken at least two weeks or more following the completion of treatment.
This appointment is to confirm you’re cured and to ensure that follow up prescriptions aren’t required.
Disclaimer: See a health professional if you are experiencing any symptoms. Diagnostic test results must be correlated with clinical history, epidemiological data, laboratory data and any other data available to the clinician.