Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Types, Symptoms and Precautions

What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) ?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infectious diseases passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact. STIs can cause severe damage to the body, even death. Apart from colds and flu, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) rank as the most prevalent contagious infections, with millions of new cases reported annually. While some STIs can be treated and cured, others lack a definitive cure.

How do sexually transmitted infections (STIs) spread?

An individual carrying an STI can transmit it to others through contact with the skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. Anyone who has sexual contact via vaginal, anal, or oral sex with another person may get an STI. STIs may not cause symptoms. Even if there are no noticeable symptoms, your health can be affected.

What causes sexually transmitted infections, STIs ?

STIs are caused by bacterial or viral infections. STIs caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. Those caused by viruses cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated.

What are symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, STIs ?

Symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), differ depending on the specific type. It’s possible not to experience any symptoms at all. However, if symptoms do occur, they are likely to manifest in the genital region and may include:

Men may encounter the following symptoms:

  • Burning or itching in the penis
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Pelvic pain
  • Sores, bumps, or blisters on the penis, anus, or mouth
  • Burning and pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Frequent urination

Women may exhibit the following symptoms:

When do symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) typically emerge?

The timeframe varies depending on the specific STI. Symptoms may surface within days or weeks, yet in some cases, they might not become apparent until several months or even years later. It’s not uncommon for there to be minimal or no symptoms, making it possible to be unaware of an STI.

If there’s any possibility that you might have contracted an STI, seek a confidential check-up at a sexual health clinic or consult with your GP.

How can you protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections, STIs ?

The best way to prevent getting an STI is to not have any type of sexual activity, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. But you can take several steps to lower your risk for an STI if you decide to become sexually active, or are currently sexually active. These include:

  • Maintain a monogamous sexual relationship with a partner who is uninfected and has no other sexual partners.
  • Always use latex condoms correctly during sexual activity, or opt for a female polyurethane condom accompanied by sperm-killing medication .
  • If injecting intravenous medicines, use sterile needles.
  • Take measures to prevent and manage other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to reduce the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Postpone the initiation of sexual relationships for as long as possible, as early onset increases the likelihood of contracting an STI.
  • Undergo regular checkups for HIV and STIs.
  • Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of STIs and promptly seek medical assistance if any symptoms arise.
  • Refrain from sexual intercourse during menstruation.
  • Don’t have anal intercourse.
  • Don’t douche.

The Limits of Condoms

While condoms are effective in preventing the spread of some STIs, they are not perfect. Condoms provide effective protection against gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and trichomoniasis. However, their efficacy is comparatively lower in preventing herpes, syphilis, and genital warts, as these infections can be transmitted through skin lesions not covered by a condom. It’s important to note that condoms offer minimal to no protection against crabs and scabies.

What to do when diagnosed with sexually transmitted infection, STI?

  • Begin treatment right away. Take the full course of medicines, and follow your doctor’s advice.
  • If you are HIV positive, refrain from breastfeeding or using breast milk to feed a baby.
  • Inform your local health department and all recent sexual partners, encouraging them to undergo medical checkups.
  • Avoid engaging in sexual activity while undergoing treatment for a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Schedule a follow-up test to confirm the successful treatment of the STI.

How can sexually transmitted infections, STIs affect pregnancy?

Having an STI during pregnancy can harm the baby. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to health issues in the infant, ranging from eye infections to pneumonia. Syphilis has the potential to result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Furthermore, HIV infection can be transmitted to a baby during a vaginal birth.

If you are pregnant and you or your partner have had or may have an STI, inform your gynecologist. Your baby may be at risk. Tests for some STIs are offered as a routine during prenatal care. It is best to treat the STI early to decrease the chances that your baby will get the infection. You and your partner both may have to be treated.

What are some common types of sexually transmitted infections, STIs?

Common STIs are listed below: –

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Individuals with HIV may not exhibit visible symptoms or feel unwell for an extended period following infection. However, without early diagnosis and treatment, the risk of developing life-threatening diseases and specific types of cancer significantly increases over time. The virus is most commonly transmitted during sexual activity and can also be spread through the sharing of needles used for intravenous drug injection. HIV can be transmitted to a baby during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and through breastfeeding. Early awareness of HIV positivity during pregnancy allows for timely treatment, significantly reducing the likelihood of transmitting the virus to the child.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Genital Warts STD HPV
HPV is a prevalent sexually transmitted disease with certain types capable of causing genital warts (condylomas). These warts may appear internally or externally on the genital areas and can extend to the surrounding skin or a sexual partner. Numerous other HPV types are asymptomatic, making it challenging to detect an infection. Typically, the virus clears on its own without causing further health issues. However, persistent infections, particularly with high-risk types like HPV 16 and 18, increase the risk of cervical cancer in women. Pap tests can identify abnormal cervical cells, and an HPV infection test can be conducted using the same sample if recommended by a healthcare professional.

Vaccination against HPV protects against the types responsible for most cervical cancers, as well as the majority of genital warts in both men and women, and anal cancer in men. Despite treatment for genital warts, the virus may persist in the body, leading to the possibility of recurrence. Certain HPV types can also cause common warts on other body parts, such as the hands, which typically do not pose significant health risks. In pregnant women with a substantial number of genital warts, complications during vaginal delivery may arise, potentially necessitating a cesarean section if the warts obstruct the birth canal.

Chlamydia

chlamydia symptoms eye throat infection dischargeChlamydia holds the distinction of being the most frequently reported sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affecting both men and women. Symptoms may include abnormal genital discharge and a burning sensation during urination. In untreated cases, chlamydia in women can progress to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Antibiotics can effectively treat chlamydia, but unfortunately, many infected individuals display minimal or no symptoms. The most serious complications, predominantly affecting women, encompass PID, tubal (ectopic) pregnancy, and infertility. Chlamydia can also be present in and affect the rectum. Pregnant women with chlamydia can transmit the infection to their baby during childbirth, potentially leading to eye infections or pneumonia and an increased risk of premature birth.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea causes a discharge from the vagina or penis, accompanied by painful or challenging urination. The most common and serious complications happen in women. They include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics. Gonorrhea can also be carried in and affect the rectum. Gonorrhea at the time of childbirth can spread to the baby and cause severe eye infection.

Genital Herpes


Genital herpes infections stem from the herpes simplex virus (HSV), presenting symptoms such as painful blisters or open sores in the genital area. Tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital area may happen just before the blisters show up. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks. The virus stays in the body, and the sores may return from time to time. There is no cure for HSV, but medicine can shorten an outbreak and reduce symptoms. HSV can be passed on from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex. The virus can be passed on to sexual partners even if the person has no visible blisters. This is called asymptomatic shedding. HSV can also be spread to a baby at the time of childbirth. This causes a very severe infection in the infant.

Syphilis

std syphilis
The initial symptom of syphilis is a painless open sore, typically appearing on the penis, in the vagina, or on the skin around either sexual organ. If left untreated, syphilis can progress to more advanced stages, marked by a rash and eventual complications affecting the heart and central nervous system. Antibiotics can effectively treat syphilis. In the case of a pregnant woman with untreated syphilis, the disease can pose severe, even fatal, risks to the baby. The impact of congenital syphilis on the infant depends on the duration of the woman’s infection and whether and when she received treatment. This form of syphilis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of the baby shortly after birth. According to the CDC, approximately 2 in 5 babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or succumb to the infection in infancy.

Other Diseases

Other diseases that may be transmitted sexually include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Chancroid
  • Cytomegalovirus infections
  • Granuloma inguinale (donovanosis)
  • Molluscum contagiosum
  • Scabies
  • Pubic lice
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Vaginal yeast infections

What are the facts about sexually transmitted infections, STIs and teens ?

Sexually transmitted infections, STIs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. But nearly half of all STI cases happen in people younger than age 25.

STIs are on the rise. This phenomenon may be attributed to the fact that individuals with a more active sexual lifestyle often engage in relationships with multiple partners over their lifetime. Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) initially present no symptoms, and the symptoms that do manifest may resemble those of other non-sexually transmitted diseases, particularly in women. It’s important to note that even STIs lacking apparent symptoms can be transmitted to others.

Women tend to experience more severe symptoms from STIs due to the following reasons:

  • Certain STIs can ascend into the womb (uterus) and fallopian tubes, leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a condition associated with both infertility and tubal pregnancy.
  • STIs in women may also increase the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Transmission of STIs from a mother to her baby can occur before or during childbirth.
  • While some infections in newborns can be effectively treated, others may result in permanent disability or even fatality.

Many STIs can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.

Author

Dr Sobia Mohyuddin

MCPS, FCPS, MRCOG, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Doctor Sobia Mohyuddin is a highly skilled and experienced Obstetrician and Gynecologist, with 25 years of training and experience in renowned, large institutions. She holds the position of Associate Professor and Fellow at the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan. She is also a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (UK).