Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are health conditions that nobody particularly wants to talk about because of embarrassment at their intimate nature, but it is a truism that knowledge is power. Understanding how an individual can become infected with a STI is a sure step on the road to preventing infection occurring.
What are STIs?
A sexually transmitted infection is one that can be passed from one person to another during a sexual act. Both vaginal and anal penetrative sex, as well as oral sex, can result in an infection being passed on when protection, such as a condom, is not used. In 2014, Public Health England recorded 439,243 cases of STIs, with those under 25, and gay/bisexual men most at risk. The most common STI in the UK is chlamydia, with 63% of cases, second is gonorrhoea with 55% of cases, third is genital warts at 52%, and fourth is herpes at 42%. HIV is still a serious problem and at the end of 2014 some 103,700 individuals in the UK were living with the disease.
Can they be treated?
Fortunately, most STIs are treatable, especially when caught at an early stage. There are tests for STIs you can take if you suspect you may be suffering from an infection. If you are worried about going to a doctor for one of these tests, do not be, as you can buy sti tests online to find out.
As already said, chlamydia and gonorrhoea are the most commonly experienced and often occur without showing any symptoms: sufferers are often unaware they have an infection. Women infected with chlamydia may experience pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a vaginal discharge, lower abdominal pain during or after intercourse and bleeding during or after sex, and between normal periods. Men can have similar symptoms when urinating, experience an abnormal discharge from the penis and feel tenderness or pain in their testicles. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated, can cause long-term health problems.
In the early stages, syphilis causes a highly infectious, painless sore to develop on genitals or around the mouth. This sore will be visible for about six weeks, will then disappear to be replaced with secondary symptoms, including a rash, hair loss or flu-like symptoms. Sufferers then enter a symptom-free phase, sometimes for many years. Antibiotics are used to treat syphilis, but if left untreated, the infection can cause blindness, paralysis and heart problems.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens it, so that a person is less able to fight off other infections. Initial indicators of HIV may include flu-like symptoms, but often a person exhibits none. HIV cannot be cured but can be managed so that sufferers live a relatively long life. HIV is spread via vaginal, anal and oral sex, and sharing needles can infect drug addicts. A pregnant woman that is infected can also pass the infection to the unborn child. Transmission in this way is rare in the UK as medical intervention can prevent the infection being passed from the mother to the foetus.
Genital warts are growths, small and fleshy in appearance, appearing around the genital and/or anal area of the body. The warts are normally painless but may cause itching or display redness. In some instances, they can bleed. Unlike other STIs, coming into contact with infected skin can pass on genital warts, and there are several treatments, usually creams, but also freezing treatments, to cure them.
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To prevent becoming infected with a STI, use a condom during sex, especially with a new partner, and take a test if you suspect infection because early treatment is more effective.