Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are bacterial, parasitic or viral infections that are spread primarily through sexual contact. They are most likely to affect people who are sexually active and tend to engage in sexual activity without protection; however anyone who is sexually active is vulnerable.
STIs are more common than people think. The last ten years has seen a significant increase of STIs up to a point where nearly half a million cases are reported every year. However, these reports don't include all the people who do not know they have an STI. Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK, followed by genital warts, genital herpes and gonorrhoea. Worrying recent reports have also shown an increase in the number of teenagers being diagnosed with syphilis.
Sexually transmitted infections can spread through anal, oral or vaginal sex. Some infections, however, can spread simply through close contact and other methods that don't involve any kind of sexual interaction, such as needles, saliva or blood.
STIs can be viral, bacterial or parasitic. Some of the most common ones in Europe are: chlamydia (bacterial), genital warts (viral), genital herpes (viral), gonorrhoea (bacterial), syphilis (bacterial), HIV (viral), pubic lice (parasitic) and scabies (parasitic). Parasitic and bacterial STIs normally can be cured, whereas viral STIs can only be managed, but luckily this can be done extremely effectively with targeted antiviral medications.
Most STIs don't cause any symptoms and some people only find out they have an infection by taking an STI test. If you suspect you have one or you are sexually active and you haven't had one recently, experts recommend getting tested. The following is a list of common STI symptoms and if you are experiencing any of the following, it's a good idea to get tested so that you can get the right treatment and prevent the infection from spreading to anybody else:
An STI should never be left untreated, which is why establishing your STI status is so important. STIs such as syphilis need prompt treatment as they can eventually lead to serious complications and even death, while other STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea can cause complications and can lead to infertility. Bacterial STIs also have the ability to make people more vulnerable to other STIs.
HIV is extremely serious and deadly, as it attacks the immune system itself and therefore treatment should be started as soon as possible. It can't be cured, but the latest in anti-retroviral medications can help people with the infection lead relatively normal healthy lives for as long as possible.
Although genital herpes and genital warts aren't likely to be dangerous, using treatments to help keep outbreaks at bay can make having the these incurable infections more comfortable and reduce the risk of these infections from spreading to others.
Most STIs have the potential to affect a baby during pregnancy or during labour, which is why doctors may recommend treatment during pregnancy to prevent any complications. Genital herpes for example carries a high risk of transmission during birth, but can also affect that baby's health; depending on the point during pregnancy it was contracted.
If you are trying to get pregnant it might be a good idea to get tested, to ensure that you know your status so that you can inform your doctor about your condition. You also have the option to take an STI test during pregnancy.
Most bacterial and parasitic STIs can be treated with the help of a course of antibiotics. One course is generally enough, but it's advised that you take another STI test two weeks after stopping treatment to check whether your treatment was successful. Parasites such as pubic lice can be treated with creams and solutions and most people don't require extensive treatment.
Viral STIs such as genital herpes or genital warts aren't curable, but antiviral medications have been proven to be very effective in controlling outbreaks and easing symptoms. Anti-retrovirals in combination with other complementary lifestyle adjustments is used to manage HIV.
The most viral STIs aren't curable, but can be managed with antiviral treatments or through lifestyle methods. Many of the most common bacterial and parasitic sexually transmitted infection can be cured successfully with the use of the right medications.
No form of protection, not even condoms or dental dams can provide complete cover from sexually transmitted infections, although they can significantly lower your risk of getting them. You can also ensure that you and your partner get tested for STIs when you are ready to consider moving into a sexual relationship, to ensure that both of you are aware of your status and get treatment if it's required.