Most STIs are easy to treat with medicine. And treating them early helps prevent serious health problems, like hepatitis.
It’s also important to know that some STIs spread in ways other than sex. You can get herpes, syphilis and HIV from skin-to-skin contact, touching infected body fluids or sharing drug needles.
Chlamydia spreads through unprotected sexual activity, meaning vaginal, oral or anal sex without a condom. It can also spread when a woman gives birth to a baby who is infected. This infection can cause health problems in both women and men. For example, in women, untreated chlamydia can damage the fallopian tubes and uterus, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. In men, a chlamydia infection can infect the tube that carries sperm (epididymis), causing pain and tenderness in the testicles.
Chlamydia can be tested for with a home kit that requires you to swab your cervix. The tests are easy and painless, and they usually take just a few seconds. If you do have a positive test, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics like azithromycin or doxycycline. You should not have sex until you finish your treatment, which is typically a week of daily doses of medicine.
Gonorrhea comes from bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae and can be spread in unprotected sex. Men and women can both get it in the throat or rectum (through oral and anal sex) or in their penis, vagina or mouth (from unprotected sex). Unlike other STDs, you don’t need to ejaculate to spread gonorrhea.
Doctors test for gonorrhea by using a cotton swab to swab your throat or rectum, or a plastic speculum to look in your vagina. In women, gonorrhea can spread to the fallopian tubes (egg canals) and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which is painful and increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy. One treatment with antibiotics cures gonorrhea, but you should get tested regularly to make sure it stays gone. Getting regular testing and treatment for STIs prevents them from leading to serious health problems, including blindness or loss of limbs.
Herpes can be transmitted through oral, vaginal and anal sex. It’s most contagious when sores are present, and it can be spread through skin-to-skin contact before a condom is put on, or between uncovered areas, Glatt says. Using latex condoms decreases your risk.
Herpes is also spread when an infected person sheds the virus without a visible sore. That happens if herpes sores or unnoticeable shedding come into direct contact with skin or mucous membranes, especially the vagina and vulva.
Symptoms are typically painful, but antiviral medicines such as acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir can decrease how long symptoms last and reduce the frequency of outbreaks, Werthman says. A vaccine is in the works, too. It would prevent herpes from entering the body, but wouldn’t cure existing infections.
Syphilis is an infectious disease that can be spread through oral, vaginal, anal or genital sex. A health care provider can prescribe medicine to cure syphilis. Penicillin is the drug of choice. But if a person is allergic to penicillin, other medicines can be used. It is important that people with syphilis tell their sex partners so they can be tested and treated.
Women with syphilis can pass the infection to their babies during pregnancy. Babies born with syphilis can have serious health problems including deafness, teeth defects and a condition called saddle nose (where the bridge of the nose collapses).
A simple blood test or swab from a sore can diagnose syphilis. Taking antibiotics early in the infection will prevent the disease from progressing to the later stages. Always use protection during sex, including using a condom and water-based lubricant.
5. Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that can lead to liver disease. It spreads when an infected person shares contaminated saliva, blood or semen with others. Symptoms of hepatitis A include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, dark-coloured urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through oral and anal sexual contact and by kissing when someone has a mouth sore or bleeding gums. It’s also more common in people who live or travel to areas with lower sanitation and in those who have weak immune systems.
STIs can be cured with medicine. It’s important to get tested and tell your sex partners about the test results. This helps prevent them from getting STIs too. Also, it can help prevent the transmission of STIs to unborn children.
6. Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by contact with blood or body fluids from a person who has it. This can include sharing injection drugs needles, unprotected sexual contact and using contaminated medical, acupuncture or tattoo equipment. It can also be passed from a mother to her baby during childbirth.
Vaccination can protect you from hepatitis B. It is free for people under 20 years of age, refugees and humanitarian entrants of any age, and is available on the national immunization schedule.
Some people who get hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis, which can lead to long term (chronic) illness and complications including liver cancer and cirrhosis. Others have a short-term (acute) hepatitis, and their symptoms usually go away on their own within 6 months. The best ways to prevent hepatitis B are to get vaccinated and use barrier methods like condoms for sexual contact.
HIV kills or destroys immune cells and progressively diminishes a person’s ability to fight infection. It can be spread through penetrative (anal or vaginal) sex, blood transfusion, sharing contaminated needles in health-care settings or drug injection, from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, and through contact with HIV-infected body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid.
HIV transmission rates vary by sexual activity and condom use. The risk is significantly reduced when both partners are on effective ART. There is almost no chance of contracting HIV from a one-night stand with a partner who has an undetectable viral load. The CDC has an interactive tool to help you assess your risk. See the link below. Also, remember that anal sex is riskier because it can tear the rectum’s thin lining.
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