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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are common; the complexity being that carriers often don’t realise that they are infected. With the exception of rare cases, most STIs are treatable, and must be treated to avoid infections that can compound into bigger issues such as passing them onto unborn children, or even falling prey to the HIV virus.
Eight Common Sexually Transmitted Infections
Listed here are the eight most common types of STIs. To know more about their symptoms, click here.
Caused by a variation of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), genital herpes is common and highly contagious. Most infected people are unaware of the infection as signs and symptoms are mild enough to be overlooked. The virus can enter the body through minute breaks in the skin and through mucous membranes.
When the symptoms are finally noticeable, the first episode is deemed the worst. While some people do not have any more complications, others have had recurrent episodes for decades. There are also cases where the infection can be active and contagious but lay dormant without any symptoms.
Symptoms can show up within a few weeks after exposure with small red bumps that appear on and around the genitalia. These blisters then turn into ulcers that ooze or bleed. Finally, scabs form and the ulcers heal.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection or Condyloma acuminatum
The HPV infection is a very common type of STI. The risks are high - some forms have been known to put women at a higher risk of cervical cancer, while other forms cause genital warts. HPV generally shows no others signs other than genital warts. These warts can be as small as 1 millimeter in diameter.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The HIV virus affects the body's immune system, eventually leading to AIDS - a disease that has no cure as yet. The virus compromises the body's ability to fight viruses, bacteria, and infections that can cause multiple illnesses and organ failure. At the onset of an HIV infection, symptoms are scarce. Some people may show flu-like symptoms a few weeks after being infected, but the only way to be sure is to get tested for HIV.
The symptoms may be exhibited mildly during the initial stages after contracting the infection, more prominently as the infection progresses across the body, and more persistently during the later stage.
This disease is caused by a bacterial infection in the genital tract, but gonorrhea can also grow in the eyes, mouth, throat, or anus. The first signs and symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear within 10 days of exposure. In other cases, people have been known to be infected for months before distinct symptoms appear.
A bacterial infection, syphilis primarily affects the skin, genitals and mucous membranes. It can, however, also affect other parts of the body including the brain and the heart.
Syphilis can come to light in these four stages — primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. Apart from these, there is also a condition called congenital syphilis. This occurs during pregnancy when a mother infected with syphilis passes on the disease to the fetus. Congenital syphilis can be life-threatening or disabling, making it crucial for a pregnant woman with syphilis to be diagnosed and treated.
Caused by a microscopic parasite, trichomoniasis is also a common sexually transmitted infection. The parasite usually infects the urinary tract in men, and is not a noticeable condition. Once transmitted, it infects the vagina in women.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are viral infections that affect the liver. Each of them is highly contagious. Among the three, hepatitis B and C are the most severe. As with a few other types STDs, the signs and symptoms of the infection may not be apparent at all for a while, and in some cases, surface after a few weeks.
Another STI caused by bacterial infection in the genital tract, chlamydia is often difficult to detect at an early stage since the symptoms are not easy to spot. Symptoms can surface only after 1-3 weeks after exposure, and even when they do, they are mild and can be overlooked easily.
STI Prevention and the Importance of Screening/Testing
STIs are preventable; they are treatable too by making sure you take stock of your health when you are sexually active. A few key points that just can't be missed or ignored:
Sexual history: It applies to both partners to be well-aware of each other's sexual histories. The risks also run higher with more partners. Screening or testing is the only way to know for sure about possible infections, even if you haven’t had multiple partners.
Use a latex condom: Condoms are not 100% effective, but they are quite effective in preventing transmission of most types of STIs. Unprotected intimate contact with an infected partner is a common risk factor for contracting an STI. A latex condom is recommended for use as its risk of breakage is lower.
Minimise risk: Risqué sexual acts that tear or break skin can increase the risk of transmitting STIs. For instance, anal sex poses a high threat since tissues in the rectum can tear easily. Even cuts that do not bleed could let the infection pass through.
Immunization and preventive medication: There are vaccines available to help prevent Hepatitis B and some types of HPV. People with HIV-positive partners need to be on PrEP, medication to lower the chances of getting infected. Talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns.
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