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STIs

This information is adapted from information from Health Service Executive - North Western Area

A sexually transmitted infection (STI; formerly called sexually transmitted disease or STD) is caused by a virus, parasite, fungus, or bacterium that can be passed from one person to another through intimate or sexual contact. There are nearly 30 STIs in the world. Some can be cured, and some can only be treated by not cured. This section provides important information about the most common STIs.

How do you get an STI?

You can get an STI by having unprotected sex, or close sexual contact with an infected person. Unprotected sex means vaginal, anal or oral sex without using a condom. Even if you have been with a partner for a while you may still be at risk because some infections don't have any symptoms.

How do you know if you have an STI?

You might show some of the following signs:

  • Unusual discharge from the vagina. It is normal for the vagina to have some wetness/discharge to keep it clean and healthy so don't worry unless:
    • it looks different, especially if the colour changes.
    • it begins to have a different or unpleasant smell.
    • it increases or becomes thicker than usual.
    • it makes your vagina itch
  • Discharge from the penis.
  • Sores or blisters near the vagina, penis or anus.
  • Rash or irritation around the vagina, penis or anus.
  • Pain or burning feeling when you pee.
  • Peeing very frequently or more often than usual.
  • It makes your vagina itch.

Some people have an infection without having any symptoms. The infection can still cause the person damage e.g. infertility and it still can be passed on.

If you have sex with someone who is infected with an STI and if you think you might be infected, even if you don't have any symptoms, go and have a check up. Clinics take place twice a week at the Student Health Centre.

How to protect yourself from infection?

  • You should always practice save sex
  • Always use a condom
  • Oral sex can pass on some STI's so use a flavoured condom or dental dam.
  • If you use sex toys don't share them unless they're protected by a condom and cleaned after each use.

Common types of STI's

HIV AIDS

What is HIV?

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. A member of a group of viruses called retroviruses, HIV infects human cells and uses the energy and nutrients provided by those cells to grow and reproduce.

What is AIDS?

ACQUIRED IMMUNO-DEFICIENCY SYNDROME:

  • ACQUIRED means you get it from someone else.
  • IMMUNO-DEFICIENCY means your body cannot defend itself against certain illnesses.
  • SYNDROME means a collection of symptoms and signs which a doctor may recognise as a disease.
  • AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease in which the body's immune system breaks down and is unable to fight off certain infections, known as "opportunistic infections," and other illnesses that take advantage of a weakened immune system.
  • When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters the body and lives and multiplies primarily in the white blood cells. These are the immune cells that normally protect us from disease. The hallmark of HIV infection is the progressive loss of a specific type of immune cell called T-helper or CD4 cells. As the virus grows, it damages or kills these and other cells, weakening the immune system and leaving the individual vulnerable to various infections and other illnesses.

How is it passed on?

HIV is usually transmitted through sexual activity. HIV is the most dangerous of all STI's. HIV can be transmitted by:

  • By unprotected anal sex (when the man's penis enters the anus / back passage)
  • By unprotected vaginal sex (when the man's penis enters the woman's vagina)
  • By injecting drug users sharing needles
  • Through infected blood or blood products
  • From a HIV positive mother to her baby in the womb, during birth or breast feeding.

HIV is found in

  • Men's semen
  • Breast Milk
  • Women's vaginal fluids
  • Blood or blood products

How to reduce the risk of infection.

  • Always practice safe sex or safer sex.
  • Always use clean needles (always go to a reliable practitioner for body piercing, ear-piercing, tattooing or for having acupuncture or electrolysis done) and ideally do not share.
  • Always treat spillages of blood as if they were infected.

What is safer sex?

  • When it comes to protection from HIV / Aids the only truely safe sex is no sex at all.
  • Any sexual activity where there is no transfer of semen, vaginal fluids or blood is considered safe: for example, hugging, kissing, masturbation.
  • Any sexual activity, which reduces the risk of these fluids getting into, another body is safer than not taking precautions.
  • Sexual intercourse is safe if neither partner has the virus, shares needles or has unsafe sex outside that relationship.

Can I get HIV from oral sex?

  • Oral sex (mouth or tongue genitals) may be less risky than anal or vaginal sex, but not entirely safe. The risk increases if there are cuts or sores on the vagina, penis, mouth or throat or if the women are menstruating (having a period).
  • To make oral sex safer, a condom or dental dam can be used.

What about other sources?

  • Ordinary everyday contact with a person living with HIV is considered perfectly safe.
  • There is a possible risk from sharing toothbrushes and razors. It is therefore advisable not to share them with others.
  • You can not get HIV from swimming pools, insect bites, sharing cutlery or cups, sharing the same washing or toilet facilities.
  • There is no risk from giving blood.

Do condoms prevent HIV?

  • A condom, properly used can help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Condoms are the only protection against HIV for penetrative sex. They do not however offer complete protection.
  • Check the safety standard symbols and expiry date.
  • Use water-based lubricants only.
  • It is advisable to correctly use a condom EVERY TIME you have sexual intercourse.

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Gonorrhoea

What is it?

  • It is a bacterial infection. It is usually transmitted and can infect the cervix, uretha, rectum, anus and throats.

Symptoms

  • It is possible to be infected with gonorrhoea and have no symptoms. Men are far more likely to notice symptoms than women.

In Women

  • Painful or burning sensation, when peeing, yellowish vaginal discharge. In later stages there may be abdominal pain, fever, bleeding between periods and sickness.

In Men

  • Discharge from penis, and burning sensation when peeing.

In both

  • If the anus is infected there may be anal irritation, discharge and painful bowel movements.

How gonorrhoea is passed on?

  • By penetrative sex (when the penis enters the vagina, mouth, or anus) and less often by:
  • Rimming (where a person uses their mouth and tongue to stimulate another person's anus) Inserting your fingers into an infected vagina, anus or mouth and then putting them into your own without washing your hands in between.

Passed on by

The bacteria can be passed to:

  • The vagina and penis during vaginal sex
  • The anus during anal sex.
  • The anus if the vaginal area is infected.
  • The throat during oral sex.

Treatment

  • Treatment is easy and essential. You will be given antibiotics in tablet, liquid or injection form.

Complications

  • If untreated gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) This is inflammation of the testicular and prostate gland which causes pain. Without treatment a narrowing of the urethra or abscesses can develop.

Prevention

  • Condoms can prevent vaginal, anal and oral spread. Care is also needed to prevent it being passed on by mouth

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Chlamydia

What is Chlamydia?

Bacteria causes chlamydia.

How is Chlamydia passed on?

  • Having sex with someone who is infected.
  • A mother to her baby at birth
  • Occasionally, by transferring the infection on fingers from genitals to eyes

Symptoms

In Women

  • Most women who are infected by chlamydia will have no symptoms at all.

Possible symptoms are:

  • A slight increase in vaginal discharge - caused by the cervix becoming inflamed
  • A need to pass urine more often or pain when passing urine. Lower abdominal pain.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding.
  • Painful swelling or irritation in the eyes.

In Men

  • Men are more likely to notice symptoms than women. But they may not notice any either. Possible symptoms include:
  • Discharge from the penis, which may be white, cloudy and watery and stain underwear.
  • A painful swelling and irritation in the eyes. (if they are infected)

Complications

In women

  • Left untreated in women, chlamydia can spread to the womb and fallopian tubes. Infection here can eventually lead to pain, blockages and infertility. If a women has chlamydia when she is pregnant she risks having an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb)or premature birth. The infection is passed on to the baby giving it an eye or lung infection. Chlamydia can also lead to chronic {long-term) pelvic pain.

In men

  • Complications caused by Chlamydia in men are uncommon. It may however lead to painful inflammation of the testicles, which cause infertility.

Treatment

  • Special antibiotics need to be taken for at least a week

Prevention

  • Condoms can prevent vaginal and anal spread. Care is needed to avoid passing it by the fingers to the eyes.

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Syphilis

What is it?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection.

How is it passed on?

It is usually sexually transmitted. It can also be passed from an infected mother to an unborn child.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms are both the same in both men and women. They can be difficult to recognise and may take up to three months to show after having sexual contact with an infected person. Syphilis has several stages.

Stages include:

Primary stage

  • A painless, sore lasting two or three weeks, may appear at the place where the bacteria entered the body. On average this will be after 21 days. You may not notice them. The sore can appear anywhere on the body but mainly:
    • on the vulva (lips of the vagina), the clitoris and around the opening of urethra (the water passage)
    • on the cervix (neck of the womb) in women and on penis and foreskin in men.
    • around the anus.

Secondary stage

  • If the infection remains untreated the secondary stage usually occurs 3-6 weeks after the appearance of sores. Symptoms include:
    • a non-itchy rash covering the whole body or appearing in patches.
    • fat, warty-looking growths on the vulva in women and around the anus in both sexes.
    • flu-like illness, a feeling of tiredness and loss of appetite, accompanied by swollen glands.
    • white patches on the tongue or roof of the mouth.

Latent Stage

  • If left untreated you will develop symptomatic late syphilis. This would usually develop after more than 10 years. It is then that syphilis can affect the heart and possibly the nervous system.

Complications

  • Without treatment the infection remains present in the body and many years later may cause permanent damage to the heart, brain and other organs.

Treatment

  • Treatment for syphilis is usually a two-week course of penicillin injection or in some cases, antibiotic tablets or capsules. Treatment at any time during the first two stages of syphilis will cure the infection. If treatment is given during the latent stage the infection can also be cured. However, if there has been heart or nervous-system damage before treatment is started this may be irreversible.

Prevention

  • Practice safer sex using condoms can prevent syphilis. Avoid contact with open sores and cover any broken skin.

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Cystitis

What is it?

It is an inflammation inside the bladder. More than half of women will have it at some time. Many women suffer repeated episodes. Men get cystitis too but it is much less common

How is it passed on?

The bacteria, which normally live in your bowel, can cause inflammation if they get into the urethra or bladder. Friction - sometimes the urethra can be damaged during sex.

Symptoms

  • Burning feeling in the urethra when you pass water sometimes there can be blood in the urine or it may be cloudy
  • A feeling that you need to pass water very frequently, even though there may be no urine to pass.
  • A dragging ache in the lower back

Treatment

  • Antibiotics or other drugs

Prevention

Make sure you empty your bladder completely when you pass water Always wipe your bottom from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus. Avoid using perfumed soaps, deodorants, antiseptics or talc in the genital area.

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Pubic Lice

What is it?

  • Pubic lice are small lice living in pubic hair and spread by close body contact especially during sexual intercourse.

Symptoms

  • Itching in the genital/pubic hair area. You can see the lice, they are pinhead sized and are grey or redish brown and are oval shaped.

How are they passed on?

  • Passed on through close body contact, vaginal & anal sex and from infested bed linen or clothes. Using condoms can prevent pubic lice.

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Genital Herpes

What is it?

Genital herpes is a virus

Symptoms

  • Burning in the genital area, pain in the legs, bum or genital area, vaginal discharge, possible fever, headache, muscle aches. These symptoms happen 2 to 3 days after sexual contact and last for about 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Itching and pain when peeing.
  • Small red lumps appear on the penis, on the lips of the vagina or in the vagina, around the anus and on the bum and thighs.
  • The bumps develop into blisters or painful open sores.
  • After a few days the sores crust over and heal.

Once you have herpes it stays in the body and may become active from time to time. The first attack is usually the worst. Stress, illness, tight clothing, menstruation or direct sunlight on genital areas can trigger attacks. Some reoccurrences may have no obvious cause.

How is it passed on?

  • It is a virus and can be passed on by vaginal, anal and oral sex. Cold sores around the mouth are caused by a different type of the virus but can be passed to the genital area through oral sex. It is therefore important to use a condom.

Treatment

There is no cure for herpes once you have it. Some tablets or certain creams can reduce the severity of the outbreaks. Paracetamol may reduce the pain until the blisters heal.

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Genital warts

What are they?

  • Genital warts are one of the most common viral STI's.

Symptoms

  • Small hard lumps. These can appear any time up to 6 months after sexual contact.
  • However they may take several years before they show.
  • The lumps can occur in groups.
  • The lumps can sometimes go unnoticed.

In Women

  • The warts may appear on the lips of the vagina, inside the vagina, on the cervix or around the anus.

In Men

  • The warts may appear on the tip or shaft of the penis, on the scrotum or around the anus. If untreated the warts may begin to look like small cauliflower shaped lumps.

Not every spot on the genitals is a wart, but it's good to get it checked if you think you may have been exposed to genital warts.

How are they passed on?

  • They are passed on from one person to another by skin to skin contact during vagianal or anal sex.
  • The virus can be passed on even if the warts cannot be seen.
  • Hand warts and verruca are caused by types of wart viruses that cannot be seen.

Treatment

  • The most common forms of treatment are applying a chemical preparation on the wart of having the warts frozen. Cervical warts if left untreated may increase the likelihood of cancer of the cervix. Regular smear tests are advised for all women.

Prevention

  • Condoms can prevent the spread of the wart virus.

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Thrush

What is it?

It isn't considered an STI but can be passed sexually Thrush is caused by a yeast fungus called candida albicans, which is normally grown in harmless quantities in the rectum and vagina. Changes in pH levels in the vagina make it possible for the yeast to multiply and cause an infection. Changes in the pH level can be caused by antibiotics, pregnancy, menstruation and stress. The yeast infection can be passed on sexually.

Symptoms

In Women

  • Itching, soreness and redness around the vagina, vulva or anus.
  • A thick white discharge from the vagina that looks like cottage cheese and smells yeasty.
  • A swollen vulva.
  • Pain when you have sex.
  • Pain when you pass urine.

In Men

There might be no symptoms or

  • Irritation, burning or itching under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis.
  • A redness or red patches under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis.
  • A thick cheesy discharge under the foreskin.
  • Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin.

How is it passed on?

  • Vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Treatment

  • The symptoms can go away without treatment but it can get very sore. Creams can be bought from the chemist but check with your doctor if you are unsure about what the infection is. Creams can be applied to infected areas. Pessaries can be used if it is in the vagina and treatment can be taken in tablet form also.

Prevention

  • Condoms can prevent passing it on.
  • Avoid perfumed soaps and vaginal deodorants.
  • Always wash from front to back to avoid passing yeast from the anus to the vagina.
  • Use cotton underwear and avoid wearing very tight jeans

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