Part of our Sex-Ed Series
April is STD Awareness Month so we’re getting a head start and taking some time to share about STDs (though we’ll call them STIs throughout the blog because that’s the newest, most accurate description).
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), previously known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or venereal diseases (VD) are infections that are passed on from one person to another through sexual contact. This contact is usually oral, vaginal and/or anal sexual activity. However, sometimes STI can also spread through other intimate physical contact, like herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) which can spread through skin to skin contact as well. STI can spread through five fluids; namely, vaginal fluid, semen, breast milk, blood and rectal fluid. They spread through genital skin-to-skin contact, genital-to-mouth, genital-to-anus, mouth-to-anus, anything-to-sex toy and sharing things during a sexual activity.
If not diagnosed early or left untreated, STIs can cause serious health-complications, including, but not limited to Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases (PID), infertility, mother-to-child transmission (example HIV, neonatal-syphilis) and neurological manifestations.
The most common symptom of an STI is: no symptom at all. Other common symptoms present are unusual looking/smelling discharge, itching or burning sensation in the genitals, or pain during sexual-intercourse.
What does our data say about STI prevalence?
According to CDC’s Survey of 2018, one in five individuals in the United States has an existing STI. In 2018 alone, there were 26 million new cases of individuals who tested positive for an STI in the United States, and half of them were 15-24 years old. They are prevalent among individuals irrespective of their gender or sexual-orientation.
Exploring Some Sexually Transmitted Infections
We’ll share just a little about each infection below, but learn more comprehensive information about each through the CDC.
Viral Infections: Viral infections are caused by viruses. They are treatable but cannot be cured.
- Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus (HIV) infection weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. In its advanced stage or when left untreated it causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which results in failure of the immune system and can be fatal. AIDS is Stage 3 of HIV infection in which the number of T-cells present in our body decreases drastically compared to the normal count. However, most people in the U.S. do not develop AIDS anymore, and remain with a case of HIV, thanks to treatment options like antiretroviral therapy. Treatment options are so good now that a person can have undetectable amounts of HIV in their body and no longer transmit the virus. Legally if you have HIV/AIDS, you must disclose your positive status to all sexual partners before you have sex (any act that could spread the disease) and it is illegal to disclose anyone else’s HIV/AIDS status (positive or otherwise).
- Herpes - This common infection causes recurrent outbreaks of painful blisters (though most people don’t know they have it and may not have symptoms). There are 2 types of herpes viruses. The Herpes Simplex Virus-1 is oral herpes and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 causes genital herpes. Most people get infected with HSV-1, and it results in cold sores around the mouth. If this occurs, refrain from oral sex. HSV-2 results in blisters or sores around the genitals or rectum.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain types of cancer later in life. We have vaccination for HPV/genital warts and a vaccine for this STI is given around 11/12-years-of-age in all genders. Men are less likely to show symptoms but they can still pass it on to their partner(s).
- Hepatitis B - Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).We have a vaccine for Hepatitis B STI at birth. Hepatitis B can actually be cured by prescription if treated immediately after exposure.
Bacterial Infections: Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria. They can be cured with antibiotic prescriptions. This is why it’s important to get tested and if you have an STI, to get treatment from your healthcare provider.
- Gonorrhea: A very common infection that can cause serious complications when not treated. Untreated gonorrhea may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV – the virus that causes AIDS.
- Chlamydia: A common STI that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. It is often known as the “silent infection” because most people do not have symptoms.
- Syphilis : The infection is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. If left untreated causes extensive damage to the nervous system.
Parasitic infections: Parasitic infections are caused by parasites or mites. They are curable by prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
- Trichomoniasis: Is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite and usually has no symptoms. It is curable by prescription medicine.
- Pubic Lice (crabs) : Pubic lice typically are found attached to hair in the pubic area but sometimes are found on coarse hair elsewhere on the body (for example, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, mustache, chest, armpits, etc.). Lise cause itching usually beginning after 5 days after contact, but they have no long term health effects. It is curable by over-the-counter medication or prescription.
- Scabies: The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common symptom is itching. It is curable by over-the-counter medication.
How to Prevent STIs
The good thing about STIs is that they are preventable, getting tested is no big deal, and most STI are easy to treat.STIs can prevented by:
- Using barrier methods during sexual-activities can prevent STIs. These include internal and external condoms and dental dams. GVSU Recreation & Wellness partners with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health to provide external condoms through Wear One. Condoms can be found in several offices all around campus for students to pick up - for free.
- Participate in regular STI screening and health check-ups when you are sexually active.
Not sure about which test you need, the CDC has some guidance.
- Vaccination is another way to prevent some STIs. Vaccinating for Hepatitis B and HPV have medically proven to prevent the respective infections.
As they say, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure, it is equally true and applicable for Sexually Transmitted Infections and hence: Take control, be aware and educate yourself about STI and participate in safe sex practices.
By: Sonal Subhash Mandale, WIT Peer Educator
Posted on Permanent link for Sexually Transmitted Infections on March 29, 2021.