WHAT IS IT?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) include diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.
Sexually transmitted infections are generally acquired by sexual contact. The organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. Some may also be transmitted nonsexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, or through blood transfusions or shared needles.
Factors that increase your risk of a sexually transmitted infection include:
- Unprotected sex. Vaginal or anal penetration by an infected partner who isn’t wearing a latex condom significantly increases the risk of getting an STI. Improper or inconsistent use of condoms also can increase your risk. Oral sex is less risky but may still transmit infection without some type of protection.
- Sexual contact with multiple partners. The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your overall exposure risks.
- History of STIs. Being infected with one STI makes it much easier for another STI to take hold. It’s also possible to be reinfected by the same infected partner if he or she isn’t treated.
- Alcohol abuse or recreational drug use. Substance abuse can inhibit your judgment, making you more willing to take part in risky behaviors. Some STIs also can spread by way of contaminated needles.
Sexually transmitted infections have a range of signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms might include:
- Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area
- Painful or burning urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread
- Lower abdominal pain
- A rash over the trunk, hands or feet
Signs and symptoms may appear a few days to years after exposure, depending on the organism.
WHAT TESTS TO EXPECT
If your sexual history and signs and symptoms suggest that you have a sexually transmitted infection, laboratory tests will be performed to identify the cause. They may include:
- Blood tests. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis of HIV or later stages of syphilis.
- Urine samples. Some infections can be confirmed with a urine sample.
- Fluid samples. If you have active genital sores, testing fluid and samples from the sores may be done to diagnose the type of infection. Laboratory tests of material from a genital sore or discharge are used to diagnose the most common bacterial and some viral STIs at an early stage.
Treatment usually consists of medication. Sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria are generally easier to treat. Viral infections can be managed but not always cured.
Antibiotics, often in a single dose, can cure many sexually transmitted bacterial and parasitic infections, including gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. Typically, you’ll be treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia at the same time because the two infections often appear together. Once you start antibiotic treatment, it’s crucial to follow through and take all of the medication. It’s also important to abstain from sex until you’ve completed treatment and any sores have healed
If you have genital herpes, you’ll have fewer herpes recurrences if you take daily suppressive therapy with a prescription antiviral drug. Antiviral drugs lessen the risk of infection, but it’s still possible to give your partner herpes. Antiviral drugs can keep HIV infection in check for many years, although the virus persists and can still be transmitted. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is. Antiviral drugs also are used to treat hepatitis.
If you’ve had an STI, ask your doctor how long after treatment you need to be retested. Doing so ensures that the treatment worked and that you haven’t been reinfected.
Getting vaccinated early, before sexual exposure, is effective in preventing certain types of sexually transmitted infections. Vaccines are available to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.