24.10.2020

What you should know about STIs

“While many infections cause symptoms, they can also sometimes be asymptomatic,” says Dr. Thomas Klarquist, Internal Medicine, from Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “Which makes it important for regular screening if you are sexually active.”

They may be uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s important to know the basics of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), a term that can be used interchangeably with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). With STIs on the rise, the only way to find out is to be tested confidentially and know the facts.

“The most important component to good sexual health is a comfortable relationship with your physician or health care provider. You should feel free to discuss your sexual activity so your STI screening can be tailored to your personal risks,” says Dr. Klarquist, “If you do not feel you have this relationship with your provider, take the time to find another and one who is knowledgeable about sexual health.”

According to the American Sexual Health Association there are six top bacterial and viral STIs that you should be aware of, know the risk factors, types of tests, and their treatment:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection that can be found in your throat, rectum, vagina and penis. The latter two can cause pain or discharge while the throat and rectum infections don’t usually show signs of infection.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
  • Available Tests: Urine sample, throat swab, rectal swab
  • Test Schedule: Annual (for those at risk) or more often depending on frequency of sexual activity
  • Treatment: Oral antibiotics
  • If left untreated: Can cause painful testicles in men and infertility in women
  • Frequency of infection: Having chlamydia once does not protect against subsequent infections

Gonorrhea

A common bacterial infection that can be found in your throat, rectum, vagina, and penis. The latter two can cause pain or discharge while the throat and rectum infections don’t usually show signs of infection.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
  • Available Tests: Urine sample, throat swab, rectal swab
  • Test Schedule: Annually (for those at risk) or more often depending on frequency of sexual activity
  • Treatment: Antibiotics (oral and injection)
  • If left untreated: Can cause painful testicles in men and infertility in women
  • Frequency of infection: Having gonorrhea once does not protect against subsequent infections

Herpes Simplex

A viral infection that causes painful skin lesions and can be recurrent. See your physician as soon as possible after getting lesions as the testing accuracy decreases with time and early treatment with medication is more effective. Also, the first attack of herpes might be accompanied by fever and discomfort.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
  • Available Tests: Lesion swab
  • Test Schedule: No testing, only if you have symptoms
  • Treatment: Topical agents or oral antiviral pills, which can prevent attacks, shorten attacks and reduce the risk of asymptomatic transfer of the infection
  • Frequency of infection: Once infected, patients can have repeated episodes of skin lesions related to the initial infection

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

For most people with HIV, they usually have no symptoms for years.  However, newly infected patients within 4-6 weeks may have a fever, rash, sore throat and diarrhea.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
  • Available Tests: Blood test or swab the inside of the mouth
  • Test Schedule: The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least one test for everyone between the ages of 13 – 64 who visit a doctor.  25% of those infected do not realize that they are and transmit the disease unknowingly.  More frequent tests up to every 3 months are indicated for those at higher risk due to frequency of sexual activity
  • Treatment: Antiviral medication
  • If left untreated: Untreated, HIV may lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can result in death. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

An infection that causes warts in the throat, anus, or near the genitals. These skin growths that can be transmitted through sexual activity which can lead to cancer at the site of the initial infection.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
  • Available Tests: Visual diagnosis from your primary physician/gynecologist
  • Preventative Vaccine: Talk to your provider about potentially receiving the vaccination which helps to prevent HPV
  • Test Schedule: No tests for screening for HPV
  • Treatment: Topical medication or surgical removal
  • If left untreated: Can lead to increased risk of anal, genital, and rectal cancer
  • Frequency of infection: Patient can get HPV at various sites and infection at one site does not prevent infections elsewhere

Skin cancer – causes, types, signs, treatment, prevention.

Syphilis

A sexually transmitted infection that has three stages.  The first is a painless skin lesion, the second which occurs 4-6 weeks later can have a rash and both can resolve without treatment.  The third stage can occur many years later resulting in blindness, dementia and paralysis.

  • Those at Higher Risk: Sexually active people who are not in a monogamous relationship.
    Available Tests: Blood test
  • Test Schedule: Discuss with your physician or provider to determine frequency of testing based on risk
  • Treatment: Antibiotic (oral or injection)
  • If left untreated: Can result, if untreated, in paralysis, dementia, and blindness
  • Frequency of infection: Previous infections do not protect against new infections

 Dr. Klarquist shares a couple tips related to STI testing, sex and treatment:

  • Discuss your sexual activity with your physician so a schedule of testing can be set up.
  • Practice safe sex with the use of PrEP (medication) or condoms.
  • If you have any of the above bacterial or viral infections make sure to abstain from sex until the doctor tells you it is safe to resume.

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