Sexually Transmitted Infections – quick facts
Sexually Transmitted Infections are still a major cause of ill health, infertility and complications during pregnancy. Get clued up on how to spot them and how to avoid them in the first place.
We all know how it happens. You have a few drinks, things get steamy and you forget to use a condom. It's so easy to get swept away with the passion and eroticism of a sexy moment that you can often overlook the consequences of not using a condom. Besides the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, you're opening yourself up to a whole raft of Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The most effective preventative method when it comes to STIs is using a condom, so make sure you stock up regularly. If you think you have an STI, contact your GP or local GUM clinic immediately to seek treatment. For the rest of you, get clued up on the different STIs and their symptoms with our handy Quick Fact STI guide.
Gonorrhoea is caused by Neisseria Gonorrhoea, a bacterium that multiplies in mucus membranes and favours moist areas such as your cervix, urethra and throat. Gonorrhoea is spread through sexual activity and can infect other parts of your body, for example, by rubbing your eyes after touching infected genitals.
10 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women show no signs of Gonorrhoea, although the symptoms include discharge from the penis or vagina, needing to urinate more often, a burning sensation when urinating and, for women only, bleeding between periods.
If left untreated in women, Gonorrhoea can develop into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. If left untreated in men, it can cause Epididymitis, a painful testicular condition that can lead to infertility. To treat Gonorrhoea, a sample of bodily fluid is taken and sent for testing. If found early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics.
Also known as the Human Papilloma Virus, Genital Warts are extremely contagious. They are contracted by direct skin contact and can spread through penetrative sex or by touching infected areas such as the vagina, cervix, penis, anus and urethra. In many cases, the symptoms do not appear until weeks or even years after first contracting them.
Male Genital Warts look like tiny lumps that stand up from the skin and are found under the foreskin, on the tip of the penis, on the scrotum and round the anus. Infected women usually find them at the opening of their vagina and anus. Women showing no symptoms will have HPV detected during their regular smear test, as it can sometimes develop into a form of cancer.
Although the HPV infection cannot be cured, there are several ways to remove visible genital warts, such as freezing them off, burning them and using laser treatment. However, once contracted the HPV virus stays in your body forever and warts are likely to reappear in the future.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that occurs in the urethra, pelvis or eyes and can be spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Common symptoms are a burning sensation when urinating, a cloudy liquid that oozes from the tip of the penis, abnormal discharge from the vagina, urethra or anus, and an eye infection.
Symptoms can appear between one to three weeks after contracting Chlamydia. However, women who don't display any symptoms may develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), resulting in infertility or Ectopic pregnancies later in life. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, and testing for Chlamydia is a simple process using urine samples or self-collected swabs.
Thrush is a yeast infection that develops from a normally harmless yeast that lives on the skin. Changes in skin and body temperature conditions can cause the yeast to increase rapidly and result in infection. Although it is possible to contract Thrush without any sexual contact (some courses of antibiotics cause Thrush as a side effect), it is commonly regarded as an STI.
Women who have Thrush display symptoms such as itching, soreness and redness around the vagina, vulva or anus, lumpy discharge and pain when having sex. Men are likely to experience burning or itching and a redness under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis, with discharge under the foreskin. Treatment for thrush comes in the form of pessaries or cream that can be applied to the external genital area.
Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a microscopic parasite found in the vagina and in the urethra of both men and women. Trichomoniasis can be passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and through sharing sex toys. If left untreated, men can develop infections of the urethra and prostrate while women can suffer complications during pregnancy in later life.
The symptoms of Trichomoniasis include yellow or green discharge from the vagina or penis, inflammation, itching and soreness in and around the vagina as well as pain when urinating or having sex. In order to diagnose Trichomoniasis, a swab is taken from the vagina or the tip of the penis and a urine sample may also be required. Antibiotics are then prescribed and sexual contact is best avoided during the treatment cycle.
Syphilis is a bacteria that can be passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex or by direct skin contact if rashes and sores are evident. Syphilis comes in three stages: the first stage includes sores around the genital area and reddish brown sores on the mouth or nose; the second stage includes a rash on the palms of hands, soles of the feet or the genital area, and the final stage can cause damage to the heart and brain, cause blindness and organ damage and, in the most extreme cases, death.
The organism that causes syphilis can be killed with antibiotics. Blood and urine samples will be required to diagnose this STI, plus a swab from a sore before antibiotics are prescribed to combat it in its early stages.
Humane Immune-deficiency Virus damages the body's immune system, making it unable to fight off illness and infection. The most common signs of HIV are persistent flu-like symptoms, unexplained weight loss, diarrhoea, white spots in the mouth and purple bumps on the skin and inside the mouth, nose or rectum.
It is estimated that around 50,000 people in the UK are living with HIV. For someone to become infected they would have to have a sufficient amount of the virus in their blood. Body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Unprotected vaginal or anal sex (there is a small risk through oral sex), are ways of passing on the virus.
Although it can be managed, there is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS. A HIV blood test will detect the presence of the virus from around three months after contracting it. Although anti-HIV drugs exist (which help manage the illness and slow down damage to the immune system), there is currently nothing that can entirely rid a person of HIV and most people who contract it eventually die.