Think back to high school health class. Remember that one topic the teacher likely touched on only briefly before moving on? That's right, it was likely sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. There's a certain stigma around STIs, but they are extremely common.
Before we dive in, a point of clarification. STIs are not to be confused with STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases. As a matter of fact, all STDs start as STIs, but not all STIs progress to STDs. The word "disease" can have a negative connotation, so many health experts are making an effort to label these two different conditions properly.
STIs are transmitted when pathogens such as viruses and bacteria enter the body. These pathogens can enter through various ways, but mostly enter through the skin or bodily fluids. They are passed from someone else who has an STI.
Some of the most well-known STIs include genital herpes, chlamydia, public lice, hepatitis B, HPV, and HIV. Keep reading to learn four things about some of the most common STIs.
If you or your partner has an STI, it's important to find out which type. This is because only some STIs can be cured, and you'll want to begin a treatment as soon as a diagnosis is discovered.
STIs are typically caused by either a bacteria or a virus. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are caused by bacteria. Hepatitis B, herpes, HPV, and HIV are all caused by viruses. STIs caused by bacteria, such as syphilis, can be cured. Those transmitted by a virus, however, can only be treated. There is still a risk of passing the virus on to your partner or significant other.
However, don't be alarmed if you are diagnosed with a viral STI such as genital herpes. Treatment is still available and can suppress your symptoms and reduce the chance you'll pass the virus to your partner. Fortunately, treatment is not hard to get. In fact, genital herpes treatment at home is more readily available than ever before. There are companies that will deliver the treatment to your door in discreet packaging. This means your privacy is maintained while you seek responsible and effective treatment for your diagnosis.
In most bacterial cases, STI treatment consists of antibiotics. It's important to take the full dose of the antibiotics even if the symptoms go away. The antibiotics eliminate the bacteria causing the STI, and early cessation of treatment can result in the infection not being eliminated.
Unlike a cold or the flu, STIs don't always trigger symptoms. And unfortunately, symptoms can take days, weeks, or sometimes years to appear. You and/or your partner may not know you even have an STI. That's why it is so important to get tested regularly, particularly if you are sexually active.
Some of the most common symptoms of STIs are:
● Bumps, sores, rashes, or tingling sensations around the genital area
● Pain when urinating
● Changes in vaginal discharge or penile discharge
● Rectal bleeding
If you or your partner experiences any of these symptoms, stop having sexual interactions until both of you receive negative STI test results. STIs can be easily spread, and you'll want to know for sure before you put yourself or your partner at risk.
Symptoms also vary based on gender and the STI itself. For example, women are more at risk of getting an infection and yet they are also less likely to have symptoms compared to men. The bottom line: If something seems off or just doesn't feel right, go get it checked out.
If you are sexually active, listen up. Getting tested for STIs should become part of your yearly checkup. The CDC recommends yearly testing for all individuals in a sexual relationship. Talk to your primary care or healthcare provider about a screening schedule that makes sense for your individual needs.
If you have had sex without a barrier (i.e., a condom), then it's important to get tested right away to avoid spreading any potential infection. If you have a positive result, your healthcare provider will talk to you about a treatment or management plan. You'll also need to notify anyone you've had sexual relations with. Remember, you would want to know this information if your partner tested positive, so be proactive about telling them immediately.
Whether you go to your primary care physician, a healthcare specialist, or your local sexual health clinic, there are different types of tests you can anticipate. You can likely expect a general physical exam along with a specific STI test. To get a sample, you may be asked to undergo a urine test, blood test, mouth cheek swab, and/or a genital or anal swab. There are also at-home STI kits in case you can't get an appointment or do not want to visit a healthcare provider for some reason.
Realize that there's no reason to be embarrassed if you or your partner has an STI. They are extremely common. In fact, 2018 data showed that nearly 1 in 5 Americans had an STI on any given day.
People can be very judgmental when it comes to sexual health and wellness. Let's face it, anything to do with sex can cause people to be squeamish. Bringing up this conversation with a healthcare provider may make you uneasy at first. However, your healthcare provider is there to provide you with the best care. Not talking about your sexual health is only hurting you in the long run.
If you are diagnosed with an STI, acknowledging it and being upfront about it can protect you and your partner. Try to have the conversation face-to-face so you can read their reaction and respond accordingly.
Getting an STI diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. However, knowing the facts and understanding the differences between bacterial and viral STIs can put you in control of your health. Talk with your primary care or healthcare provider openly to ensure you are getting the treatment you need. And always bring your partner into the conversation. It may be your health, but you can only carry so much on your shoulders alone.