Being proactive about your health is important. Many sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms so you may not even know you are infected until the infection does serious damage to your health (i.e. infertility) or a partner who does have symptoms calls you up and says they got something from you. It is crucial to be informed as to the risks of different sexual activities and to stay on top of your testing – especially if you are not consistent with safer sex measures (avoiding higher risk activities, condoms, dental dams and gloves).
You may have heard them called other things: venereal diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and as well as slang such as the clap. Now, most people call them Sexually Transmitted Infections be cause it is more inclusive and takes into consideration that some have no symptoms. So as a good working definition STIs are bacterial and viral infections that can be transmitted through sexual activities (though some can be occur or be transmitted through nonsexual activities and circumstances).
So let’s go though the more common STIs and learn more about them. You can read in more detail about these STIs and others at the American Social Health Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Sexuality and U.
HIV/AIDS is a virus that attacks the immune system and subsequently weakens the body’s ability to fight diseases and infections. It causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids (such as blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions or breast milk). Anal and vaginal intercourse, oral sex, shared needles used for injecting IV drugs or accidental pricks with infected needles, blood transfusions, childbirth or breastfeeding are known ways of transmitting HIV.
Bacterial Vaginosis is a kind of vaginitis that occurs in women where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is sometimes accompanied by greyish white discharge, strong fish-like odour, pain, itching, and/or burning. Many women report no symptoms at all. It is not always caused by sexual activity (women who are not sexually active may develop it). It is often related to sexuality activity because vaginal sexual activities can disrupt the balance of the vaginal flora and cause the above mentioned symptoms.
Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. Even though symptoms of chlamydia are usually mild or absent, serious complications can cause irreversible damage, including infertility, can occur before a woman ever realizes there is a problem. Chlamydia also can cause discharge from the penis of an infected man. Research has found a connection between Chlamydia and male infertility.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. It can grow and multiply easily in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and in the urethra in women and men. The bacteria can also grow in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. Ejaculation does not have to occur for gonorrhea to be transmitted or acquired. It was recently announced by the CDC that it is likely that Gonorrhea will be untreatable in the very near future due to the bacteria becoming immune to antibiotics (2012).
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a group of viruses. There are five major types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis A, B and C are the most types found in the United States and Canada.
The hepatitis A virus can be transmitted when a person eats or drinks something contaminated with the stool or blood of someone who has the disease. Sexually speaking, oral-anal contact is a way of acquiring the virus. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted when a person’s mucous membranes or blood are exposed to an infected person’s blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions. Unlike hepatitis A, the hepatitis B and C viruses can stay in the body–sometimes for a lifetime–and eventually cause chronic, serious liver diseases. There are presently vaccines only for Hepatitis A and B.
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex viruses. Type 1 (HSV-1) is often called oral herpes and is found around the mouth. Type 2 (HSV-2) is found around the genitals. However, HSV-1 can be transmitted to the genitals and vice-versa. Most individuals have no or only minimal symptoms from HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. Once it is acquired it lives in the body over a lifetime, often without symptoms or with periodic symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals or rectum. The blisters will break and leave tender sores that may take two to four weeks to heal the first time they occur. Typically, another outbreak can appear weeks or months after the first, but it almost always is less severe and shorter than the first outbreak. It is important to note that the herpes viruses can be transmitted even when no sore is visible at the time of contact.
In the United States, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection. Genital herpes (HSV-2) is more common in women (one out of four women vs almost one out of five men). This may be due to male-to-female transmissions being more likely than female-to-male transmission.
HPV is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva, or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.
Approximately 20 million people in the United States are currently infected with HPV. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection. About 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year.
Some of these viruses are called “high-risk” types, and may cause abnormal Pap tests. They may also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Others are called “low-risk” types, and they may cause mild Pap test abnormalities or genital warts. Genital warts are single or multiple growths or bumps that appear in the genital area, and sometimes are cauliflower shaped.
Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Many of its symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases so a proper diagnosis is essential.
Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. Transmission of the organism occurs during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to the babies they are carrying. Syphilis cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
Trichomoniasis is the most common curable sexually transmitted infection found among young, sexually active women. However, it does affects both women and men, even though symptoms are more common in women.
It is caused by the single-celled protozoan parasite. The vagina is the most common site of infection in women, and the urethra is the most common site of infection in men. The parasite is sexually transmitted through penis-to-vagina intercourse or vulva-to-vulva (the genital area outside the vagina) contact with an infected partner. Women can acquire the disease from infected men or women, but men usually contract it only from infected women.
Yeast Infection is also know as a vaginitis. Again, you do not need to be sexually active to get a yeast infection. However, vaginal sexually activity can cause a disruption i the balance of the vaginal flora leading to symptoms such as thick, white “cottage cheese” discharge, and pain, itching, burning, or redness around the vagina.