Today we’re talking about Sexually Transmitted Infections or STIs.
Aren’t there a lot of different kinds of STIs? I heard that some are caused by bacteria, some by viruses, some by fungi, and some are even caused by parasites!
Let’s talk about the basics: some STIs are caused by bacteria, a type of germ. Our bodies are full of bacteria, some are healthy, and some aren’t. When we have a bacterial infection, either a new kind of bacteria has entered our system or a kind we already had has started working against us.
Bacterial STIs • Chlamydia • Gonorrhea • Syphilis
Chlamydia is a bacterial STI that attacks the body’s reproductive and digestive systems, and occasionally the mouth and throat.
While most people with Chlamydia don’t have any symptoms, some people might notice that it hurts or burns when they ease themselves, or they might experience itching.
Gonorrhea, while it is caused by a different bacteria, acts in a similar way to Chlamydia. That’s why a doctor will usually test for both. Both diseases can be treated and cured, but only if you go to see a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
For women, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can cause an even worse problem called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or PID, if they don’t get treated. While Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be cured, PID can cause permanent damage.
Syphilis is different, though. It’s still caused by a bacteria, but it has 3 distinct stages.
In stage 1, most people get a sore somewhere near where the bacteria entered their body. This means that the sore might be somewhere hard to see, and you might not notice it. Then in stage 2, you might get a rash over your whole body, or a fever, muscle aches, or sore throat.
After that, in stage 3, the bacteria disappears into your body, where it keeps eating away at your insides for many years. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor as soon as you get sick, so that you can catch the bacteria before it hurts you permanently.
Remember, a bacterial infection can be cured. So Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea can all be cured if you take care of yourself and see a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
Even if you don’t have symptoms, if you’ve been sexually active and you think you might have one of these infections, talk to a doctor right away.
There’s another type of STI that can be cured. Those are the STIs caused by parasites, which are small animals or organisms that live in or on your body. Parasites: • Pubic Lice or “crabs” • Scabies • Trichomoniasis
Pubic lice, or “crabs” are tiny little bugs that live in the hair around your genitals – your pubic hair. They cause intense itching and a mild fever, and usually a lot of grumpiness!
Scabies are even tinier little bugs that live on the skin. You can get them by having what we call “prolonged” skin-to-skin contact with someone else who has them. That means you can’t get them from a handshake or a hug, but you can get them from sexual activity.
People who have scabies will notice a lot of itching and small bumps or rashes wherever their skin folds – so around the genitals, in the knees or elbows, even around the stomach and navel.
Trichomoniasis is caused by an even smaller animal – a protozoa. Protozoa are the size of a single cell, and this one lives in your reproductive tract. You can get it through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Symptoms include itching around the genitals, pain or burning when you ease yourself, or discomfort during sexual activity.
Like bacterial STIs, parasites can all be cured if you see a doctor at the first sign of infection. Unfortunately, there are some STIs that can’t be cured. Have you ever heard of a virus?
A virus is a tiny organism that can only survive in a living cell. Some viral infection you might have heard about include the common cold, polio, or the flu. Viral infections cannot be cured.
But they cured polio, didn’t they?
Not cured, but learned how to prevent. Some viral infections like the flu or polio, can be prevented using vaccines or injections that protect us from getting them. For other viruses like the cold or HIV, scientists haven’t been able to make a vaccine yet.
Viral STIs • Human Papiloma Virus (HPV) or Genital Warts • Hepatitis B • Herpes • HIV
We know everyone wants to know more about HIV, so we have a whole lesson that talks about it. For now, let’s talk about the other STIs that are caused by viruses.
I want to know about HPV. I heard a crazy rumour that something like 80% of people have it!
We don’t really know, Tunde, but it is true that most sexually active people will come into contact with HPV at some point in their lives. That’s because most people won’t ever have any symptoms, so it’s hard to tell when you might have it.
In some cases, HPV causes genital warts, which are little white bumps around your genitals that may or may not itch. In other cases, HPV can help cause some kinds of cancer. That’s why it’s so important to protect yourself when you’re sexually active. Plus, scientists are working really hard to make a vaccine, and then we might be able to prevent a lot of people from getting it.
Hepatitis is another STI that has a vaccine, but not a lot of people get it. People with hepatitis might have a fever, body aches, or stomach problems, or a whole lot of other problems.
Hepatitis attacks your liver, which is what causes a lack of appetite or nausea, or, if it gets really bad, it can turn your whole body yellow.
Some viral STIs don’t have a vaccine at all, like herpes. The herpes virus causes a skin condition where a person with the virus gets sores and blisters around their mouth or genitals. That’s called an “outbreak.”
Some people with herpes might not have outbreaks, so they might not know that they have it. Herpes is contagious during an outbreak, but also directly before and after. There are treatments available to control outbreaks.
Viral STIs can be tested by using blood tests or other methods. While they can’t be cured, the symptoms can be treated, which can improve the health of the person with the virus. That’s why it’s important to get tested and treated, even if you can’t be cured.
All STIs can be transmitted through genital to genital contact (penis to vagina, penis to anus, vagina to vagina) or mouth to genital contact. Some of them can also be passed if someone touches their own genitals, then yours. HIV has some other methods of transmission that we’ll talk about in the lesson on HIV and AIDS.
If I can’t remember all those symptoms and what they mean, I know that I should talk to my doctor if I experience any sort of drip or discharge from my penis that seems unusual.
And both men and women should see a doctor about: • Sores, rashes, bumps or blisters on the mouth or genitals • Burning or painful urination or bowel movements • Itching or swelling around the genitals or in the throat
And women should also be concerned about: • Unusual discharge or odor from the vagina • Lower abdominal pains • Burning or itching around the vagina • Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse • Pain during sexual intercourse
So, what can the doctor tell me?
Well, the doctor can do medical tests to determine exactly what you have, and then decide how to treat it.
All the STIs can be treated, which means that the symptoms can be regulated and eased, but not all of them can be cured. Viruses can’t be cured – they’re in your system for the rest of your life.
So I suppose that people getting married should discuss about their sexual activity and get tested for any STIs even if there are no symptoms.
What if one of them has something? Or both? If they have the same thing, would they still need to use condoms?
Yes, they still need to use condoms every time they have sex because they might be infected with different types of the virus. They could pass it back and forth and put themselves at higher risk.
That would be smart because there are long-term effects of not getting an STI treated.
• Damage to the reproductive organs, resulting in infertility • Bladder infections • Damage to the organs such as the liver (hepatitis B), brain (syphilis), and heart (gonorrhoea) • Arthritis • Breakdown of the immune system or death (HIV)
• Increased risk of cancer of the reproductive organs (HPV) • Premature labour or stillbirth (gonorrhoea) • Blindness and birth defects in new babies (syphilis & gonorrhoea) • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy & chronic pains
STIs are not selective: they don’t choose who to infect or when. It’s best to always make smart choices or protect yourself by abstaining.
Thanks for talking us through all that. We feel a lot better knowing all the facts.
Remember, take care of yourself!
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