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What are STIs /STDs?
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections transmitted through sexual contact. This includes vaginal, oral and anal sex. STIs are sometimes referred to as STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases).
Some examples include HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and many more. STIs are very common but sometimes aren’t caught because the symptoms may not be clear or the symptoms don’t show at all.
Having an STI can lead to other health problems and complications depending on which STI it is.
STIs can be contracted through unprotected sex, genital touching or from a pregnant mother to her child.
Why STIs/STDs are problems?
STIs such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea are important preventable causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. Untreated, about 10-15% of women with chlamydia will develop PID. Chlamydia can also cause fallopian tube infection without any symptoms. PID and “silent” infection in the upper genital tract may cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues, which can lead to infertility.
Source: CDC Website https://www.cdc.gov/std/infertility/default.htm
STDs/STIs during pregnancy can also cause
- Ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube)
- Preterm labor and delivery (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy)
- Low birth weight
- Birth defects, including blindness, deafness, bone deformities, and intellectual disability
- Illness in the newborn period (first month of life)
- Newborn death
Source: NIH Website https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/stds/conditioninfo/infant
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, especially in women aged 15 – 24. If left untreated for long, it can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it harder to get pregnant later on.
Untreated chlamydia is a common cause for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs.
If left to a later stage, chlamydia can cause a potentially fatal pregnancy that occurs outside the womb, known as an ectopic pregnancy.
Antibiotics are available but they will not be able to fix any permanent damage.
Often, chlamydia does not show any symptoms so it is important to get tested if there are any doubts post – intercourse.
It takes about 2 weeks after exposure for a reliable test to be taken.
Chlamydia leads to an increased risk of getting HIV.
Gonorrhea is a very common STI. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum and throat.
If left untreated for long, it can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which leads to chronic pelvic pain, pregnancy problems and infertility.
Antibiotics are available to treat gonorrhea but they will not be able to fix permanent damage so must be taken in the early stages.
It takes about 2 weeks after exposure for a reliable test to be taken.
Gonorrhea leads to an increased risk of getting HIV.
Syphilis is an STI with different stages, each having different symptoms. The later stages can damage organs, leading to severe illness and even death.
The First (Primary) Stage is when sores appear. The time between exposure and the appearance of sores is about 3 weeks. If treated, the sores will heal on it’s own after 3 to 6 weeks. If not, the infection moves to the second stage.
The Second (Secondary) Stage is when rashes appear on the body and can start as the sores are healing.
The rash and other symptoms will go away on their own but without treatment, the infection will proceed to the latent stage.
The Inactive (Latent) Stage is when the primary and secondary symptoms go away but the infection still lives in the body.
In this stage, the infection cannot be passed on, unless sores are still present.
Without treatment, it will advance to the late stage.
In the Late (Tertiary) Stage, the infection progresses to the organs, including the brain, eyes, nerves, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.
The damage can lead to nerve problems, paralysis, blindness, deafness, dementia and other health problems.
This stage can potentially lead to death.
This stage is reached with treatment is not received earlier but it is a rare stage to reach.
Treatment is via antibiotics but in the later stages, more medication may be required.
Syphilis can be tested for between 1 week and 3 months after exposure.
HPV stands for Human papillomavirus and is a very common STI. Almost everyone who is sexually active will contract some form of HPV in his or her lifetime. There are many types of HPV and they usually do not present any symptoms.
If signs of the infection do present themselves, they would appear about 1 – 3 months after exposure.
It usually goes away on its own but in cases that it doesn’t, it can lead to health issues such as genital warts, cervical cancer, genital cancer, oropharyngeal (throat) cancer or respiratory papillomatosis (warts in the respiratory tract).
There are no cures for HPV so regular checks must be done and it must be caught at an early stage before developing into any of these health complications.
A HPV vaccine is available to prevent it and prevent it and the related diseases, namely, cervical cancer.
Herpes is an STI caused by one of two types of viruses; herpes simplex virus (HSV) 1 and 2.
HSV-1 causes infection around the mouth and HSV-2 causes infection around the genitals.
The herpes virus is spread through contact with open sores but it can sometimes be caught from people without symptoms.
Genital herpes can be severe and long-lasting in people whose immune systems are weak.
The first sign of herpes usually shows up between 2 to 12 days after exposure.
Trichomoniasis is an STI in which the symptoms, if any, vary from person to person. Many people with this STI cannot even tell that they are infected, meaning it can spread even if there are no symptoms.
Having this STI increases the risk of having HIV.
Antibiotics are available to cure this Trichomoniasis but the sex partner(s) needs to be treated too.
If symptoms occur, they might appear 5 – 28 days after exposure.
It cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms so a laboratory test is required.
Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver. There are different types of hepatitis and different ways of spreading them; sexual intercourse is one way.
Hepatitis A can be spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex and can be spread even if no symptoms are present.
Hepatitis B is found in an infected person’s body fluids; therefore, vaginal, oral and anal sex is one of the most likely ways it is spread. Symptoms often occur after the infection has been contracted, meaning someone could already be infected with it without even knowing.
Hepatitis C is also found in body fluids. Those with this infection don’t usually produce symptoms so is hard to tell if they may be infected.
All of these forms of hepatitis can lead to chronic diseases, such as liver disease.
Hepatitis A and B have vaccines available for them but hepatitis C does not. However, there are methods to manage it.