Sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) affect over 20 million Americans, with all ages and genders being susceptible. These infections are spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, and awareness is key to reducing the likelihood of spreading a disease to your partner or becoming infected yourself. Getting the facts about STI’s and talking to your healthcare provider is important to maintaining sexual health. Here we will outline some of the more common STI’s and how to treat or eliminate them.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
This is the most common sexually transmitted infection; 79 million Americans have contracted the infection. HPV is a virus that can be spread from person to person through skin-to-skin contact; sexual intercourse is not required for infection to occur, although is most commonly spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Anyone sexually active can become infected, and symptoms are often rarely noticed or even experienced until years after the first exposure.
HPV can cause the following diseases:
Girls and boys should get the HPV vaccine as a series of shots. Vaccination works best when it is done before a person is sexually active and exposed to HPV, but it still can reduce the risk of getting HPV if given after a person has become sexually active. The ideal age for HPV vaccination is age 11 years or 12 years, but it can be given starting at age 9 years and through age 26 years.
For those aged 9–14 years, two shots of vaccine are recommended. The second shot should be given 6–12 months after the first one. For those aged 15 years through 26 years, three shots of vaccine are recommended.
Chlamydia is another commonly reported STI in the US. It is most often spread through vaginal or anal sex, and only about 25% of women and 50% of men experience significant symptoms. A noticeable discharge from the vagina or penis, or painful, burning when urinating are symptoms associated with chlamydia.
Being a bacterial infection, this is often treated with antibiotics and follow-up testing. Without treatment, chlamydia has the potential to cause fatal ectopic pregnancy. The infection can also be passed to a baby during delivery, causing eye damage. If an infection is discovered, both partners will be treated and seven days should pass before resuming intercourse.
This is another bacterial STI and often diagnosed with a chlamydia infection. Most times the symptoms appear within 2-7 days of infection. The symptoms are similar: painful burning during urination and discharge from the vagina or penis. Most all men experience these symptoms, in addition to an itchy feeling inside the penis or pain and swelling in the testicles. About 20% of infected females experience the common symptoms of change in periods or more painful periods, pain during sex, and vaginal bleeding after sex or between periods.
As it is a bacterial infection, gonorrhea is also treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can affect the ability to get pregnant or be passed onto a child’s eyes during birth causing blindness. Both partners will be treated and intercourse of any kind should be restricted for seven days after starting treatment in order to avoid re-infection.
Herpes can be contracted from an infected partner, whether even if they are not displaying any symptoms. Genital herpes is common and many do not realize they have it. This infection is caused by two types of viruses, and there is no complete cure. Oral herpes results in sores or fever blister on or around the mouth, while genital herpes symptoms start as small blisters which eventually break open into raw, painful sores. Eventually, they scab over and heal within a few weeks.
Herpes can lie dormant in the human body for years, and as there is no cure for the virus, medicine is prescribed to prevent or shorten outbreaks. Although the initial outbreak is severe, repeat outbreaks are often shorter and less severe over time. Using condoms will lower the risk of passing the infection or being infected, but it does not lower the risk completely. Often, herpes sores become a path for HIV cells to enter the body, increasing the risks of additional sexually transmitted infection.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is transmitted through contact with the blood, semen, or genital fluids of an infected person. The common way to spread HIV is through unprotected sex and sharing syringes or needles with an infected individual. Some individuals experience flu-like symptoms within 2 weeks of being infected, yet some individuals experience no symptoms at all. Overall, the infection weakens a person’s immune system, leaving them unable to fight infection or disease.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the most advanced stage of an HIV infection. Common symptoms of AIDS include chills, fever, sweats, swollen lymph glands, weakness, and weight loss There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, yet antiretroviral therapy is used to help control the symptoms and boost the bodies ability to fight disease and infection, as well as lower their chances of infecting another person. A blood test is the most reliable way to test for infection.
STI’s are important concerns for any sexually-active individual, but awareness and precaution can help maintain your sexual health. Contracting an STI can be alarming, scary, and dangerous if left untreated, as you run the risk of infecting others and potentially damaging an infant during childbirth. Your healthcare provider is always ready to listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and offer treatment and advice should you suspect you have become infected with an STI.