Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are becoming extremely common as people tend to have more partners before settling down. They are not anything to be ashamed about but it is important to be aware of them and consider testing if you think you might be at risk.
Condoms help reduce the risk of catching an STI but they don’t stop them altogether.
Early diagnosis and treatment is important to avoid long term health problems especially for women.
Anytime you have sex with someone new you should consider an STI test. This may be a simple as providing a urine specimen or may involve swabs and blood tests. If you do not wish to be examined most tests can be taken by yourself in the privacy of the toilet.
Chlamydia is the commonest STI particularly in young people (up to age 25). Up to 1 in 8 young people may be carrying Chlamydia and not know they have it. This is why it is called the ‘silent STI’, especially in men.
The symptoms including experiencing stinging when you pass urine or passing urine frequently. This may be associated with a yellowy vaginal discharge in women or a clear discharge from the penis in men.
If Chlamydia is left untreated it can lead to pelvic infection (lower abdominal pain, fever, pain with sex) for women and potentially this can leave the woman infertile or at risk of ectopic pregnancy. In men it can lead to a swollen painful testis.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria passed between people during sex. It is easily treated in most cases by 2 tablets of an antibiotic. It is important sexual partners are also treated even if they have no symptoms.
The doctors at Cairns Doctors can advise you on which tests you should have and how often you should be tested depending on your sexual practices.
Herpes is also becoming very common. It is estimated up to 1 in 8 people carry the virus that causes genital herpes.
People are very frightened of herpes but for most people it is not as bad as their imagination.
It is caused by a virus related to the cold sore virus and causes painful blisters on the genitals. The first time a person experiences herpes is always the worst time. Thereafter recurrences tend to be milder and gradually happen less often until after a year or 2 the virus fades away.
Most sexual partners of a person with herpes will never develop symptoms even if they are exposed to herpes.
Due to the increased popularity of oral sex the cold sore virus (herpes type 1) is becoming commoner as a cause of blisters on the genitals. This tends to only occur once in half the people who get it so rarely becomes a longer term problem.
There are effective tablets available to control herpes in the majority of people who contract it.
The doctors at Cairns Doctors can help you work out if it is likely you have herpes and can advise you on the best treatment for you.
These are a cosmetic problem which cause people a lot of embarrassment but NO serious health problems.
They generally cause painless lumps anywhere on the genitals but there can be many other skin conditions they can be confused with.
There are a range of treatments available including freezing with dry ice and creams you can apply at home.
In the longer term the immune system usually gets control of the virus and the warts stop occurring. Just as with herpes most people exposed to the wart virus will not know they have it and never develop symptoms.
Thanks to the introduction of the Gardasil vaccine for schoolgirls they now rarely occur in young women in Australia. As of this year schoolboys will also be offered the vaccine. People wishing to be vaccinated can purchase the vaccines on a private script.
The doctors at Cairns Doctors are experienced in managing genital warts and can advise you on whether the vaccine is suitable for you.
There are many other STIs you may not be so familiar with apart from the common ones discussed above.
Gonorrhoea, trichomonas, mycoplasma genitalium (the ‘new Chlamydia’) and syphilis are all caused by bacteria and easily cured.
Hepatitis B is preventable by vaccination. HIV is manageable with medications.
Hepatitis A and C can also be transmitted by sex in certain situations.
The doctors at Cairns Doctors are experienced in diagnosing and treating all STIs so don’t be embarrassed – ask away!
See more information about STI at the Queensland government’s Queensland Health website.