A sexually transmitted infection, or STI is any type of viral or bacterial infection that is mostly spread through having sexual contact and intercourse.
Any sexually transmitted infection will need to be diagnosed accurately, early so that any symptoms can be treated and long-term complications, which might include infertility, prevented.
The infection, (BV) bacterial vaginosis is common but not well understood and occurs when the bacterial balance in the vagina is disturbed. This will often trigger the normal vaginal discharge to change and that will lead to a greyish, fishy smelling, vaginal discharge. However, half of women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms.
The vagina naturally has ‘good’ bacteria, that help protect against infection, and there is a smaller amount of what are called ‘bad’ bacteria, that might give rise to infection. In BV, bad bacteria start to overwhelm the good bacteria, and that will lead to inflammation setting up, inside the vagina, and this is what leads to the fishy smelling discharge.
There is currently no written evidence that a woman who has BV can pass on any infection to her male partner during sex. But for women who have sex with other women this might not be true. BV is concerning when it develops in a woman who is pregnant because of an increased risk of pregnancy complications, even a premature birth or a miscarriage. This risk, however, is small. Bacterial vaginosis can also raise the risk of contracting some other STIs. It is diagnosed with a urine sample.
Chlamydia is one of the commonest STIs seen in the United Kingdom and will be easily passed on during sexual contact and intercourse. Most people have no symptoms and will not realise that they have been infected.
Chlamydia can cause a burning sensation when urinating in women, and there can also be a discharge from the vagina. There might be pain in the lower abdomen after or even during sex, as well as bleeding after or during sex. Bleeding can be experienced between periods and periods might also be heavy,
For men, chlamydia can give a burning feeling or pain on ruination and a whitish and watery or cloudy discharge from the penis tip with some tenderness or pain felt in the testes. Chlamydia infection can also occur in the rectum in the eyes or in the throat. Chlamydia is easily diagnosed with a urine test or with a swab taken from the area affected. Treatment is with antibiotics, but long-term health problems can arise if the infection is left untreated. These include infertility.
A common infection, genital herpes comes from the herpes simplex virus (HSV), – the virus that causes the common cold sore.
Often symptoms of genital herpes develop a few days after infection. Small, painful sores or blisters will be seen, causing tingling or itching and often making urination painful.
After infection, the virus can remain inactive for long periods of time. Certain triggers can reactivate the virus and then the blisters will develop again, although often they will be smaller and they will be less painful than the original outbreak. Testing for HSV is easier if you have symptoms. There is no cure for genital herpes, but symptoms can be controlled usually, with antiviral medication.
Primarily attacking the liver, Hepatitis B is a virus mainly passed on through sexual contact, or by sharing needles that are contaminated in the use of street-drugs. It can also be passed on from a mother who is infected to a newborn baby. This virus can give rise to an acute or short-term infection that may come with or without symptoms.
After an acute infection, there might be development of a persistent infection that is called ‘chronic hepatitis-B’. Many people who have this chronic condition will stay well in themselves but, because they are carriers, will still be able to pass on the infection to others. Some sufferers will go on to have serious liver complications. If necessary, antiviral medicine might help to reduce or prevent severity of any liver inflammation and this might help prevent more serious liver damage. Hepatitis B is diagnosed with a blood test.
Hepatitis C will primarily attack the liver. Most cases are seen in people who have shared contaminated needles when they are injecting street drugs. A small risk exists that a person infected will pass on this virus during sex. Some people eliminate this infection naturally and without treatment but if infection has been present for many years (cirrhosis) severe scarring of the liver can develop and cancer of the liver can also develop. Treatment for this condition is complex but can clear infection in about half of all cases. Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test.
Potentially life threatening, and passed on through sex or sharing needles, HIV is a STD that requires life-long management.
A bacterial STI, Gonorrhoea is easily contracted, during sex.
About half of women infected and about ten per cent of men will not experience symptoms and will be unaware that they have been infected.
For infected women, gonorrhoea can cause a burning sensation on urination, pain or an often-watery vaginal discharge that is green or yellow. There might be pain in the low abdomen after or during sex, and there might be bleeding after or during sex or between monthly periods and might also cause heavy periods.
For infected men, gonorrhoea might cause a burning sensation or pain on urination and a yellow, white or green discharge from the penis tip and tenderness or pain in the testes.
Gonorrhoea infection can also occur in the rectum in the eyes or in the throat. Gonorrhoea is easily diagnosed with a urine test or with a swab taken from the area affected. Treatment is with antibiotics, but long-term health problems can arise if the infection is left untreated and these include infertility.
Mycoplasma genitalium is a bacterium that is sexually transmitted that can give symptoms in both women and men. Along with gonorrhoea and chlamydia it can be the main cause of urethral inflammation in men. For women, it can give rise to cervicitis (an inflamed cervix). This infection will be diagnosed from a sample of urine.
A bacterial infection Syphilis, in its early stages will cause a painless but a very infectious sore that will appear on the genitals or around in the mouth area. Sores will last for up to six weeks before they resolve. There might be secondary symptoms like a rash, a flu-like feeling or even a patchy loss of hair. These may resolve in a few weeks, following which there will be a phase without symptoms.
The later stage of syphilis will come after many years of infection and can lead to serious health problems like as heart problems, blindness and paralysis. Symptoms of syphilis area often hard to spot. A blood test will usually diagnose syphilis whatever the stage. Treatment is with antibiotics, usually with injection of penicillin. Treated properly, the later more dangerous stages of syphilis can largely be avoided.
An STI that is caused by a tiny parasite (TV) Trichomonas vaginalis is easily passed on through having sex and mostly those infected will not realised that they have the infection. This infection, in women, can cause a frothy watery-yellow discharge vaginally, which smells foul and there can be itching and soreness in the area around the vagina, as well as pain on urination. TV does not often causes symptoms in infected men. There may be burning or pain passing urine, a discharge that is whitish or the foreskin may become inflamed. TV is diagnosed with swab testing or a urine test. Treatment is usually with antibiotics.
Affecting about 70% of women and men who are sexually active, Ureaplasma urealyticum is a bacterium that although not typically considered an STI, is transmitted through sexual contact. Ureaplasma is often symptomless and many people experience no problems. Colonies of the bacteria, however, can multiply and then symptoms will appear. If left untreated there can be complications. Ureaplasma is diagnosed with a sample of urine.