Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are also called Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Venereal Diseases (VD). They are relatively common and are infections that are usually passed from person to person through sexual contact. STIs are an important global health priority because of their devastating impact on women and infants and their inter-relationships with HIV/AIDS.
Bacteria, viruses, or protozoa may cause STIs. Sexual activity provides an easy opportunity for these organisms to spread from one person to another, because it involves close contact and transfer of genital and other body fluids. STIs affect both men and women, but in many cases the health problems they cause can be more severe for women. Additionally, if a pregnant woman has a sexually transmitted infection it can cause serious health problems for the baby. Using condoms can help prevent these infections, and most of them can be effectively treated with drugs.
TYPES OF STIs
There are more than 20 types of STIs; the most common ones are listed below.
Symptoms of STIs vary greatly, but the first symptoms usually involve the area where the organisms entered the body. Some of the more common symptoms are listed below.
When STIs are not diagnosed and treated promptly, some organisms can spread through the bloodstream and infect internal organs, sometimes causing serious problems. These include:
In women, some organisms that enter the vagina can infect other reproductive organs. Infections of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries are called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Damage to the uterus and fallopian tubes from inflammation can result in infertility or an ectopic pregnancy.
In men, organisms that enter through the penis may infect the tube that carries urine from the bladder through the penis (urethra). Chronic infection of the urethra can cause the following:
Doctors often suspect an STI based on symptoms. To identify the organism involved, doctors may take a sample of blood, urine, or discharge from the vagina or penis and examine it. The sample may be sent to a laboratory to help in identification.
For many STIs, tests to identify the cause are limited, unavailable or may take several days for the results to return. Therefore, doctors may choose treatment based on which organisms are most likely to cause the person's symptoms. They may also treat people at their first visit in case they do not come back after test results are available.
Most STIs can be effectively treated with drugs (antibiotics for bacterial infections and antiviral drugs for viral infections). Viral STIs such as genital herpes and HIV, usually persist for life. Antiviral drugs can control but not yet cure these infections.
People who are being treated for a bacterial STI should abstain from sexual intercourse until the infection has been eliminated from them and their sex partners. Hence, sex partners should be tested and treated also.
Several factors make prevention of STIs difficult. They include the following:
Many STIs can be spread through oral sex. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV and HPV. By definition, oral sex is when someone puts his or her lips, mouth or tongue on a man’s penis, a woman’s genitals (including the clitoris, vulva, and vaginal opening), or the anus of another person.
It may be possible to get some STIs in the mouth or throat from giving oral sex to a partner with a genital or anal/rectal infection. It may also be possible to get certain STIs on the penis, vagina, anus or rectum, from receiving oral sex from a partner with a mouth or throat infection. It is possible to have an STI in both the throat and the genitals at the same time. Using a condom or dental dam each and every time can lower the chances of giving or getting STIs during oral sex.
Sharing sex toys can be risky if they have vaginal fluids, blood, or feces on them. Sharing sex toys without first cleaning them or using a condom can potentially expose a person to STIs. The safest practice is not to share sex toys at all. If sex toys are shared, a condom should be used. It is important to change the condom before another person uses the toy so that any body fluids or infectious organisms on the sex toy are not passed on to the partner. It is also important to change the condom when moving from the anus to the vagina to prevent possible infection.
When to get tested?
If you test positive
Although it is unfortunate, getting an STI is not the end of the world. Many STIs are curable and all are treatable. Although it may be a difficult conversation to have, make sure to inform your partner.
If either you or your partner is infected with an STI that can be cured, both of you need to start treatment immediately to avoid re-infecting each other. Ensure that the treatment is completed.
Also, always tell your sexual partners that you have an STI before you have sex, this way you can work together to make a safer sex plan and help prevent it from spreading.
Abstinence and Mutual Monogamy
Mutual monogamy means only having sex with one partner, and it is one way to limit your exposure to STIs.
Abstinence means not having any kind of sex with someone else. People who practice sexual abstinence do not run any risk of contracting an STI or having an unwanted pregnancy.
Using a condom or dental dam during oral sex can lower the chances of giving or getting STIs. For mouth-to-penis contact, cover the penis with a non-lubricated condom. For mouth-to-vagina and mouth-to-anus contact, use a dental dam, or cut open a condom to make a square, and put it between the mouth and the partner’s vagina or anus.
The only time unprotected sex is safe is if you and your partner have sex with each other only, and if you each have tested negative for STIs. If you are unaware of whether your partner has an STI or not, it is not safe to have unprotected sex.
If you know that your current partner has unprotected sex with multiple partners, then it is safest to protect your self by practicing safe sex with that person.
Condoms are highly effective in preventing STIs that are spread through bodily fluids (such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV). However, they provide less protection against STIs spread through skin-to-skin contact like HPV (genital warts), genital herpes, and syphilis.
Condoms must be used correctly and consistently. You can get an STI by having sex just once with an infected partner. Condoms must be worn throughout the entire sex act, from start to finish. Incorrect use of condoms can lead to condom breakage, slippage, or leakage.
Always read the package label on condoms (regardless of the price). It should say that the condom is made of latex or polyurethane (for people allergic to latex). The package should also say that the condom could prevent disease.
Learning the proper way to use condoms and dental dams can significantly reduce the risk of getting an STI.
Click the link below to learn the correct way to use a dental dam.
Click the link below to learn the correct way to use a male condom.
Click the link below to learn the correct way to use a female condom.
I hope these tips on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) were helpful; Remember, Your Health Is Invaluable.
By Dr. J. Lawarna Matthew
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Visit the links above for more information