With every sexual encounter there is not only an emotional risk but also a physical one.
STIs can be passed on by contact with body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids and blood. Some STIs can be passed on by unprotected genital contact and oral sex.
Here is an outline of some of the most common STIs, how to recognise the symptoms, treat them and more importantly how to avoid getting them in the first place.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection with symptoms that include a painless ulcer in the genital, anal or mouth area and a red spotty rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. There is also a possibility of long term heart and brain damage. Antibiotics are available to treat this STI but follow up blood tests must also be taken.
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection and 80% of women and 50% of men show no symptoms. However abnormal vaginal or penis discharge, stinging or burning sensation when peeing, bleeding between periods and pain or bleeding after or during sex can all point to Chlamydia. It can be treated with antibiotics.
Herpes is a virus that again most people who carry the virus have no symptoms. During an outbreak you may have flu-like symptoms, painful blisters or ulcers on your external genitals and rectum and a burning sensation when you pass urine. Prescribed medication can reduce discomfort but the virus will stay in your system, leading to further outbreaks.
Genital Warts is virus that can be in your system for 3 weeks to 8 months before you show symptoms. Warts usually appear in the genital area but there may be invisible warts that can still pass the virus on to your sexual partner(s). There are a few treatments available, such as freezing the warts and prescribed creams. The virus will stay in your system, so the warts may come back.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that can be treated by antibiotics but it can cause effects such as pre-term labour, low birth weight, pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. About 70% of women and 10% of men will have no symptoms. Vaginal, anal or penile discharge, burning or stinging sensation when peeing, pain during or after sex and bleeding between periods may be a sign that gonorrhoea has been contracted.
There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting STIs such as always using a condom and limiting the number of partners you have.
If you think you have contracted an STI immediately contact your doctor and get checked.
(Text published in An Focal Vol XXI Issue 1 on 18 September 2012(Print version) and also online at http://www.anfocal.ie/lifestyle/5339/the-whos-who-of-stis)