As the name suggests, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections that are often, but not exclusively, passed from one person to the other through sexual intercourse. Anyone sexually active is at risk of contracting STIs regardless of their age, sex, social background, or race. These infections are very serious; unfortunately, so much wrong information and myths about STIs get passed around, especially among the youth, which has largely contributed to the rise in spreading STIs. Getting the STI facts is the only way you can learn ways to protect yourself against these infections. Here are some interesting STI facts you probably don’t know about:
There Are Over 25 Known STIs
STIs can be bacterial, parasitic, or viral. People don’t realise just how many different infections they expose themselves to every time they have unsafe sex. While there are so many STIs, the most common ones include gonorrhoea, HIV, Chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts, HPV, hepatitis B, pubic lice (crabs), trichomoniasis, scabies, molluscum contagiosum, and herpes. Anyone who’s sexually active needs to get tested regularly to know for sure what’s going on. STI tests are pretty quick and easy. While you’re at it, be as transparent as possible, which includes telling your doctor the kind of sex you’ve had so they can figure out what kinds of testing you may need.
STIs Can Be Transmitted in Several Ways
Any kind of sex –whether oral, vaginal, or anal–can spread an STI. In fact, having oral sex without protection puts you at a high risk of contracting herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and hepatitis B. To avoid getting these infections, always use a condom or dental dam during oral sex, especially with a new partner. While most STIs are transmitted through vaginal fluid and semen, others like herpes, pubic lice, genital warts, and scabies can be spread through sexual contact such as kissing or skin-to-skin contact with the infected area. Some STIs like HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B can also be transmitted via direct blood-to-blood contact. In that case, avoid sharing needles and other objects contaminated by blood. Expectant mothers can also transmit HIV, hepatitis B, Chlamydia, or syphilis to their child during birth or while breastfeeding. There are, however, many ways STIs cannot be transmitted, including handshakes, sharing dishes, insect bites, hugs, sharing towels, and so on.
STIs Are Treatable, but Not All Are Curable
Bacterial STIs like syphilis, gonorrhoea, and chlamydia can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Parasitic STIs like scabies and pubic lice can be cured using prescription washes. Viral STIs, on the other hand, are incurable but treatment can help relieve symptoms. STIs that currently don’t have a cure include HIV, genital herpes, chronic hepatitis B, and some strains of HPV. You can get an STI more than once and even have multiple STIs at the same time. To reduce the risk of getting an STI:
- Avoid risky behaviour like using drugs or drinking alcohol before or during sex
- Use a condom whenever you engage in any sexual activity
- Be in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV
Some STIs Are Asymptomatic
Some of the most common symptoms of an STI include burning when you pee, vaginal/penis discharge, flu-like symptoms such as fever and swollen glands, itching in your genitals or anus, sores around your genitals/anus, etc. However, some STIs like Chlamydia have mild to no symptoms. Other symptoms may disappear before recurring, and others like HIV develop symptoms at a later stage. You can still get or transmit an STI even with no symptoms. The only sure way to know whether you or your partner has an infection is to get tested.
STIs Can Have Serious Health Consequences
STIs aren’t just painful and uncomfortable; they can be dangerous as well. If left untreated, some STIs can cause heart and blood vessel damage, liver disease/failure, urinary tract problems, cancer, and even death. Women experience more serious complications from STIs than men. For starters, untreated STIs in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection that can scar the Fallopian tube and cause infertility. Women who are trying to get pregnant are at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, while those who are pregnant risk having a miscarriage or premature delivery. They also run the risk of transmitting an STI to the baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.