Everything That You Need To Know About STIs

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Did you know that Ireland sees a huge surge in STIs after Christmas and New Year?

Yep, there seems to be something in the air at this time of year. And that something is a lot of misinformation. Rates of HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Herpes and Chlamydia are now soaring and they are expected to reach a high following the festive period.

According to HIV Ireland, in 2016 there were 12,984 STI cases reported in Ireland. 15-24 year olds accounted for almost half of chlamydia cases, 43% of herpes simplex cases and 37% of gonorrhoea cases notified in 2016. 

Here’s everything you need to know about STI’s, and most importantly how to avoid them altogether.

What is an STI?

The term Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) is used to refer to a condition passed from one person to another through sexual contact.

How do you get an STI?

STIs are infections that can be caught or passed on when you have unprotected sex, or close sexual contact, with another person who already has an STI.

Types of STIs

Chlamydia

Most people notice no symptoms, but you could experience pelvic pain, burning during urination, and vaginal or urethral discharge. Without medication, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

How you get it: Oral, vaginal and anal sex.

Treatment: Easily cured with a once-off dose of antibiotic.

Genital Warts

These cauliflower-ish bumps, which can turn up on the anus, and inside and outside the vagina, are caused by a less serious strain of HPV that isn’t associated with cancer. They’re itchy, but usually painless.

How you get it: Sexual intercourse and groin-to-groin contact.

Treatment: Warts can be removed with freezing, creams or surgery. Without this the wart, and the wart virus, can clear on their own within a couple of years. Smoking slows down wart clearance.

Gonorrhoea (‘the Clap’)

Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that can cause pelvic pain, inflammation and vaginal discharge, but sometimes has no symptoms. It can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if left untreated.

How you get it: Oral, vaginal and anal sex.

Treatment: Doctors prescribe a combination of injectable and oral antibiotics.

HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system and initially may feel like a bad case of the flu. The advanced stage is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Aids). If diagnosed early after infection, medications can stop progression to Aids.

How you get it: Vaginal and anal sex and sharing needles; less commonly, oral sex, contact with open wounds.

Treatment: There’s no cure, but long-term medicines control the virus and allow people to live long, healthy lives.

Hep B

A virus that affects the liver and often leads to chronic liver disease. Symptoms are fatigue, fever, jaundice, dark urine, nausea and abdominal pain. Can lead to liver failure or cancer.

How you get it: Oral, vaginal and anal sex as well as sharing needles, razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.

Treatment: The immune system sometimes fights off the infection within six months of exposure. Chronic cases are treated with lifelong medication.

Herpes

A virus grouped into two types (HSV-1 and HSV-2), herpes can cause painful outbreaks of ulcers on the mouth, vagina, penis, rectum and butt cheeks, which make you more vulnerable to other STIs. In rare cases, herpes leads to viral meningitis.

How you get it: Oral, vaginal and anal sex can cause genital herpes and a person could potentially get type 2 on their mouth if they gave someone oral sex or kissed someone with type 2 on their lips.

Treatment: It’s incurable, but a daily pill can lessen outbreaks.

Pubic Lice (‘Crabs’)

These tiny insects infest the pubic hair, suck your blood and lay eggs, so a bit like head lice!😬

How you get them: Sexual activity, but it can also be passed through contact with linens and clothes.

Treatment: OTC creams and lotions kill the insects and their eggs.

Super Gonorrhea

Like other bacteria, gonorrhoea is mutating: a new strain is resistant to four of the antibiotics once used to cure it.

How you get it: Oral, vaginal and anal sex.

Treatment: New treatment guidelines, an injectable drug and an oral dose of a second antibiotic are working.

Syphilis (‘the Pox’)

A bacterial disease said to have plagued Beethoven and van Gogh, syphilis can damage the heart and nervous system if left untreated. The telltale symptom is a painless sore or sores. It may progress to a red pock-like rash.

How you get it: Contact with a syphilis sore during kissing and vaginal, oral or anal sex.

Treatment: Antibiotics can cure it.

This sounds awful! How do I prevent STDs?

Using condoms correctly every time you have sex will reduce your risk of getting an STD.

But, you need to be aware that although condoms are a key tool in the prevention of STIs, they aren’t 100 percent effective.

For example, herpes, which can spread by skin-to-skin contact, can be contracted even with condom use if the infected area isn’t covered by the condom – so it’s super important to know and trust your partner (or practice abstinence).

You should always take time to talk to your partner and get their full sexual history before engaging in sexual activity with them.

Can I only get an STI if I have intercourse?

No, you can still contract an STI from other sexual activity such as having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the STI.

What about the LGBTQ+ community?

STIs, and more worryingly HIV, are on the rise in the LGBT+ community. So, even if pregnancy isn’t a concern, avoiding STIs should be. You should always practice safe sex regardless of the gender of your partner.

What are the symptoms of STIs?

The scary thing about STIs is that it’s possible to contract one without developing symptoms, that also means that you can pass one on without knowing it.

But some STIs cause obvious symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • pain or discomfort during sex or urination
  • sores, bumps, or rashes on or around the vagina, anus, buttocks, thighs, or mouth
  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the vagina
  • itchiness in or around the vagina

I'm worried that I might have an STI, what do I do?

If you think you may have an STI, it’s so important to be tested ASAP. Some STIs can cause serious health problems if left untreated. You should visit your GP, pharmacist or an STI clinic for professional advice.

STI screening is free of charge and confidential at HSE clinics – you can get a full list here.

You can also order an at home (and very discreet) STI Test Kit from Let’s Get Checked.

There’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Doctors have seen and heard it all before. Don’t put your health at risk to try spare yourself some blushes.

The reality is that having an STI will not ruin your life. Most can be cured. The key is to try be as careful as you can by always using condoms, and if you have any doubts get tested.

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