Learning about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be scary and confusing – but it doesn’t have to be!
All STIs are not the Same:
But they do have some things in common. First, they are all transmitted sexually through vaginal, oral, and anal sex and are found in sexual fluids, including semen and vaginal secretions.
Second, they share most of the same symptoms: painful and frequent urination, rash and itching, sores or blisters, abdominal pain, and abnormal or unusual discharge from the vagina or penis.
Many common symptoms for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also indicate other conditions, including urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections. However, there are often NO symptoms, and a person can have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) without even knowing it.
This is why testing is so important! It’s the only way to know if you have an STI and helps ensure you receive the correct treatment.
Parasitic sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are curable with medicine but are not usually included in most screenings. If you are concerned about having one of these sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you must tell the medical provider conducting the tests.
Trichomoniasis (‘trich’) is caused by a single-celled organism called protozoa. The most common test for Trich is by a urine specimen. It can also be tested with a vaginal swab sample sent to the lab or viewed under the microscope.
Pubic lice (crabs) is caused by an insect, similar to head lice. Since crabs like to live in pubic hair, sex provides an easy way for this infection to spread to others and can be passed through skin contact.
Like with head lice, a common symptom of crabs includes being able to view the lice and their eggs. Because of this, testing for pubic lice involves the medical provider examining the area for evidence of crabs, including taking a sample and viewing it under a microscope.
Bacterial STIs are also curable with medications. Testing for these infections typically include a urine sample, with just one exception.
Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI), followed by Gonorrhea. Many times, neither of these infections has any symptoms, and if left untreated, can seriously damage the body, including conditions that impact fertility and sexual functioning.
Syphilis is also caused by a bacterial infection and is a unique sexually transmitted infection (STI) because it progresses through three stages.
The first is associated with the appearance of a sore or chancre that is usually painless that disappears on its own.
The second stage symptoms can be a rash on the palms or soles of the feet, hair loss, or no symptoms at all. This second stage (latency) can last many years and continue to be contagious. Even though there may be no symptoms during this stage, the syphilis infection continues to reproduce (or be present) and begins to damage the body.
The third and final stage is when the infection has spread so far that it begins damaging brain tissue, becoming fatal. Testing for syphilis is done by a blood sample. Early detection is super important so a person can begin treatment (and be cured) before the infection permanently damages the body.
Though bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be cured, the damage done to the body cannot be reversed! This is another reason testing is so important!
Viral sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are NOT curable but can be treated with medication to help manage the symptoms and prevent them from progressing. An easy way to remember which sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are viral is that they all begin with “H.”
Hepatitis B attacks the liver like other strains of Hepatitis, and there is a vaccine to protect against Hepatitis B infection. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the immune system and, without treatment, will progress to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can be fatal.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the overall most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) with many different strains. The two most concerning strains of this infection are associated with the development of cervical cancer and genital warts. Like with other types of warts, this infection can be passed through touch, meaning this is one of the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. There is a vaccine available that helps to prevent these strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) called Gardasil.
There are two types of Herpes Simplex Viruses: Simplex 1 (HSV1) and Simplex 2 (HSV2). Herpes Simplex 1 is associated with oral outbreaks around the mouth, commonly called ‘cold sores, ‘and Herpes Simplex 2 is associated with genital outbreaks. These strains can be interchangeable through unprotected oral sex (HSV1 on the genitals or HSV2 around the mouth). Transmission of the Herpes virus can also occur through touch when skin-to-skin contact is made with a sore during an outbreak.
Remember – testing is KEY to early diagnosis and treatment! Take care of your health by knowing your STI status and scheduling a test with a healthcare provider.