STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted diseases or infections)

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 14 February 2008

Despite numerous prevention campaigns, STIs such as AIDS, syphilis and chlamydia are still very common. What are the main infections and their symptoms and how can they be treated?

Despite numerous prevention campaigns, STIs such as AIDS, syphilis and chlamydia are still very common. What are the main infections and their symptoms and how can they be treated?

STDs were previously known as veneral diseases and are spread through unprotected sex (with or without ejaculation), including vaginal, anal and oral sex.

HIV/AIDS

HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sexual acts, blood (transfusions and sharing needles) and from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This deadly disease causes a sudden drop in the immune system. It can take up to a dozen years for HIV to turn into AIDS. The symptoms are often similar to common illnesses, so can go undetected in the early stages and include flu-like symptoms, fever, a sore throat, fatigue, diarrhoea, unexplained weight loss and rash or skin eruptions. The only treatment that delays the onset of AIDS is tritherapy (a mix of 3 antiviral drugs). But they cannot cure HIV and there are many side effects.

Hepatitis B

Can also be transmitted sexually, through blood to blood contact and from mother to baby through the placenta. Hepatitis B can go undetected as some of the symptoms are like flu. Sometimes jaundice can also occur. In worst cases, it can become chronic and can cause liver disease in the long term. Only a vaccine can prevent Hepatitis B.

Chlamydia

Widespread in the UK, where it is the most common curable bacterial sexually transmitted infection. If left untreated it can cause serious complications. It is very contagious and found mainly in young women. It affects the cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries.The signs include: vaginal discharge, bleeding following intercourse, irregular bleeding, inflammation of the cervix, urethritis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and lower abdominal pain. If symptoms are not treated, chlamydia can cause infertility. Treatment involves antibiotics for both partners.

HPV

Human Papilloma Virus causes genital warts. Pink/white small lumps appear around the genital and rectal area and can be itchy but are painless. Warts may also develop inside the vagina and on the cervix. Light bleeding is also a symptom. Condoms reduce the risk of transmission, but not completely. If left untreated, these lesions can turn pre-cancerous and lead to cervical cancer. A new vaccine called Gardasil is recommended for females between 12 and 26 and can help protect against cervical cancer. Regular smear tests can also help to detect this infection early.

Genital herpes

These are caused by the virus HSV2 and can infect a person for life (they can stay dormant for a long period). Once active, genital herpes is painful, and causes skin erruptions, blisters, boils and cold sores. Antiviral medication can relieve symptoms, but sufferers often have recurrent outbreaks and cannot be totally cured.

Syphilis

Caused by the bacteria treponema pallidum, this infection is widespread in Africa but less common in developed countries. During the first stage of the infection a painless sore or ‘chancre’ usually appears on the genital area or area of contact, then skin erruptions appear on the rest of the body, especially on the palms and the soles of the feet. Fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes follow. The only treatment is antibiotics in variable doses according to the stage of the disease.

Prevention

Condoms are still the only way to protect yourself from STIs and although most can be treated effectively, early detection is still important to avoid complications. Consult your GP if you have concerns and if you notice any changes down below. It is also important to treat both partners to avoid re-infection.