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SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STIs)

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SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STIs)

The following information is to be used as a guide to and at the discretion of the end-user and should not replace a doctor’s opinion.

OVERVIEW

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections that are primarily spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. More than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Some STIs can also be transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide, the majority of which are asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms). STIs have a direct impact on sexual and reproductive health through stigmatisation, infertility, cancers, and pregnancy complications and can increase the risk of HIV.

WOMEN AND STIs

Women often have more serious health problems from STIs than men.

  • Our anatomies place us at unique risks for STIs.  The vagina is a good environment (moist) for bacteria to grow. The lining of the vagina is thinner and more delicate than the skin on a penis, so it’s easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate.

  • Women are less likely to have symptoms of common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea compared to men. And if symptoms do occur, they can go away even though the infection has not.

  • Women are more likely to confuse symptoms of a STI for something else. Women often have normal discharge or think that burning/itching is related to a yeast infection, while men usually notice symptoms like discharge because it is unusual.

  • Women may not see symptoms as easily as men. Genital ulcers (like from herpes or syphilis) can occur in the vagina and may not be easily visible, while men may be more likely to notice sores on their penis.

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COMMON STIs

Eight pathogens are linked to the greatest incidence of STIs. 

Four are currently curable bacterial or parasitical infections:

  • Chlamydia: chlamydia is extremely common bacterial infection and shows no symptoms in most women. Chlamydia is very destructive to the fallopian tubes and is associated with fertility problems, tubal pregnancy, premature births, and newborns with serious eye damage or pneumonia. Chlamydia can also cause severe pelvic infections and, if untreated, some women with chlamydia will develop pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Gonorrhea: gonorrhea is one of the oldest known STIs. If untreated, this bacterial infection can lead to inflammation of the fallopian tubes and ovaries, gonococcal arthritis, and pelvic inflammatory disease which can lead to sterility.
  • Syphilis: syphilis has been around for centuries and is a highly contagious bacterial infection. The first stage of syphilis infection is the formation of an ulcer around 21 days after infection. If not treated, it can develop into secondary syphilis which can affect various organ systems of the body and often causes skin rash and itch, hair loss, sore throat, fever and headaches, and white patches in the nose, mouth and vagina. Tertiary, or late stage, syphilis can develop as many as 20 – 30 years later and causes a variety of problems, like heart issues, infections of the brain, sight deterioration, and deafness. This damage is severe and can be fatal.
  • Trichomoniasis: a parasitic infection that doesn’t always show symptoms; however, it still requires treatment, if not, it increases your chances of contracting and spreading other STIs such as HIV. Some women report foul-smelling, green or yellow vaginal discharge that is profuse and frothy, burning and itchiness in their genitalia, and pain during urination and sex. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may be at higher risk of giving birth prematurely, having a baby with a low birth weight, and infecting their baby during labour.

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STI SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of STIs vary depending on the type of infection but may include:

  • Having to go to the bathroom often

  • Burning or itching in the vagina

  • Pain or burning during urination or bowel movements

  • Unusual genital discharge or odour

  • Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal

  • Sores, bumps, or blisters in the vagina, anus, or mouth

  • Pain deep inside during sexual intercourse

  • Lower abdominal pain

  • Swollen lymph nodes

HOW CAN I PREVENT STIs?

  • Abstinence: Abstaining from sexual activity is the most effective way to prevent STIs.
  • Mutual monogamy: Having sex with just one partner can lower your risk for STIs. After being tested for STIs, be faithful to each other. That means that you have sex only with each other and no one else.
  • Use condoms: Used consistently and correctly, condoms are the best way to prevent STIs when you have sex. Because a man does not need to ejaculate (come) to give or get some STIs, make sure to put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus. Other methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from STIs.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners: Your risk of getting STIs goes up with the number of partners you have.
  • Get tested: Regular STI testing, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple partners, can detect infections early, allowing for prompt treatment and prevention of complications.
  • Get vaccinated: There are vaccines to protect against HPV and HBV. These vaccines are recommended for adolescents and young adults, but they may also be suitable for older individuals depending on their sexual history and risk factors.

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