If you are sexually active then you should understand the risks of sexually transmitted infections and diseases and the importance of safe sex. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one million sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STD/I) are acquired everyday worldwide. Since all sexually active persons are at risk for contracting an STD/I, it’s important to understand what the symptoms look like and how they can be treated. Particularly for women, it’s important to understand the risks of having an STD and giving birth. Keep reading to learn more about the five most common STD/Is and their treatments.
Chlamydia is a common STD that can be easily treated. Many people do not have any noticeable symptoms of the infection, however, you can look out for abnormal vaginal discharge or any burning sensation when urinating. Chlamydia left untreated can cause fertility issues, so you should get tested regularly, particularly if you’re aware that you’ve come in contact with someone with the infection.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to clear up your chlamydia infection. This may be a single dose of medication or a seven-day course. You should wait until you’ve taken all the doses, or wait seven days if it’s a single dose before you have sex again. When taken properly, your infection should clear up entirely.
Gonorrhea is also a very common STD that can be treated pretty easily. Almost 50% of women infected with this STD do not notice any symptoms. However, those that do may notice a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina, pain when urinating and bleeding between periods. For women, it is crucial to treat this infection especially if you are pregnant or plan to be. Without treatment, gonorrhoea can cause permanent blindness in a newborn baby. Women are also at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infertility from untreated gonorrhoea.
Typically, gonorrhoea is tested with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. With effective treatment, most of your symptoms should improve within a few days. You may be advised to attend a follow-up appointment with your doctor a week or two after your treatment to conduct a second test confirming the infection is cleared. You should wait until you are certain you no longer have gonorrhoea before you have sex again.
You may have oral or genital herpes, both can be transmitted via sexual acts. Some people may have herpes and not have any symptoms or very mild symptoms. They will still be able to pass the virus on to someone else, however. Oral herpes may look like cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth. Genital herpes may include pain or itching in the genital area, small red bumps or tiny white blisters, ulcers and scabs. During an initial outbreak, you may also experience flu-like symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headaches, muscle aches and/or fevers.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for herpes. This may mean that you’ll have several outbreaks over time. However, there are medications you can take to limit the severity and frequency of outbreaks and make the virus not transmissible to your sexual partner/s. This may include taking antiviral medication daily. You should avoid having sex when you notice that you are having an outbreak to ensure you do not pass the virus on to your partner.
If you have herpes and are pregnant there are few pregnancy safe medications that you may be given towards the end of your pregnancy to ensure you don’t have an outbreak while giving birth, as you may pass the virus on to your baby. Your doctor may, however, opt to have a cesarean section (c-section) to limit the risk of you passing it on.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is one of the most common STDs. This infection tends to be most common for women in their late teens and early twenties. If you do contract HPV, you may be at an increased risk for genital warts and certain cancers if you leave the virus untreated.
You can get HPV from having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected with the virus. It may also be passed on if the infected person has no symptoms or is not aware that they have the virus.
In many cases, HPV may go away on its own without causing any additional health issues. There is an HPV vaccine available to protect against the most common types of HPV infections which may cause cervical cancer. It is recommended for girls 9-13, but you may take it at any time. Three doses are given within a six month period. Talk to your gynaecologist to get more information about receiving this vaccine. In addition, getting your frequent Pap smears serve as HPV screenings and it’s crucial that you keep on top of this to protect yourself.
Trichomoniasis is the most common curable STD, however, approximately 70% of people infected do not have any symptoms. This makes it hard to diagnose without doing a test. You can still pass the virus on to your sexual partner/s even without symptoms of the virus. The virus is more common in women than men and those that do have symptoms may notice: itching, burning, redness or witness of the generals, burning when urinating and/or change in scent and consistency of vaginal discharge. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis are more likely to have their babies preterm or have a low birth weight.
Trichomoniasis can be treated with medication. These prescribed pills are to be taken by mouth and are safe for pregnant women. After you’ve completed your treatment, wait about a week before you have sex again. And if symptoms persist, do a test to confirm the infection is gone.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV is one of the most serious, common STDs. It is a lifelong illness that may be life-threatening if not treated quickly and effectively. Some symptoms you can look out for include: fever, muscle aches, chills, rash, night sweats, swollen lymph nodes, mouth ulcers and/or fatigue. Of course, other illnesses have these similar symptoms, therefore, the only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV contact your healthcare provider now.
If HIV is not treated it can turn into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There is no effective cure for HIV but there are treatment methods and people can live long, healthy lives with effective medical treatment. HIV treatment involves taking medicine that reduces the amount of HIV in your body, the treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). This slows down the virus from developing into AIDS. This medication can get the virus under control in around 6 months. If taken correctly, your treatment may also help to prevent transmission of the virus to others.
The only way to completely avoid contracting an STD is to abstain from having sex. Otherwise, practising safe sex with a condom and limiting your sexual partners may help decrease your risks.
Fortunately, most STDs today can be treated. Ensure you and your sexual partner/s regularly get tested even if you are asymptomatic. Confirmation is the best route to protect yourself and those you have intercourse with.