An STI is an infection that is passed from person to person during sexual activity including anal sex, oral sex or vaginal sex. There are a number of different kinds of STI, and in the United Kingdom the most common forms are anogenital warts, genital herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chlamydia and gonorrhoea, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, trichomonas and pubic lice.
These are small lumps that can develop on or around the anus and on the genitals, sometimes referred to simply as genital warts. A germ known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for this condition, although the great majority of those infected with the virus do not actually develop the warts. It is therefore possible for someone to be a carrier of the infection without being aware of it, and to then pass on the infection to someone else who may develop warts. Options for treatment include freezing the warts in order to destroy them, or applying chemicals to them.
The herpes simplex virus is responsible for genital herpes. This virus remains in the body for life once caught, but can stay dormant for very long periods without resulting in symptoms, and there are many people who live with the virus and never experience any symptoms at all. Symptoms can include a number of painful blisters on the penis or vulva and surrounding areas, to just a mild sensation of soreness. The first onset of symptoms can last between two to three weeks, with any recurrent symptoms generally being less severe in a similar manner to cold sores. Symptoms can be eased by antiviral medications.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Cells in the immune system are attacked by HIV, and over the course of several years in normal circumstances the immune system gradually becomes weaker and weaker, making the body unable to defend itself against germs, bacteria and viruses, resulting in immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS. People with AIDS can develop many conditions and infections, but the good news is that today the viral load of HIV can be treated with antiretroviral medicines, which help the body’s immune system to again perform its normal function. The virus cannot be permanently removed however, meaning that those infected with HIV will require long term treatment and monitoring.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Chlamydia is the United Kingdom’s most common STI, caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis germ, while the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes gonorrhoea. Chlamydia can go for months or years without causing symptoms. Symptoms of both can include penile and vaginal discharge, but if left untreated complications such as infertility in women and pelvic infection can develop, and it can still be passed to others. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be detected with a simple test and are usually cleared by a short course of antibiotics.
Hepatitis B and C
Hepatitis B and C are viruses that mainly affect the liver. Hepatitis B is primarily transmitted by the sharing of contaminated needles for the injection of street drugs, sexual contact, or via a mother to her child. Hepatitis C is mainly transmitted via the sharing of contaminated needles, with only a very small risk of infection during sexual activity. Hepatitis B can result in a short term infection, which does not necessarily include symptoms, though some people can develop serious problems with their liver and will need antiviral medication.
The great majority of those infected will be largely unaffected by the condition, but can still pass it to others. Hepatitis C sufferers can remain free from symptoms even with a persistent infection, but others can develop liver cancer and a serious scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis. Treatment can clear up the infection in around fifty percent of cases, and some people may even be able to clear the infection on their own.
Trichomonas is a small germ that results in an infection that is rarely serious but can have unpleasant symptoms, such as a discharge from the vagina or the penis. Antibiotics normally clear the infection.
These are tiny insects, barely 1-2 millimetres in length, that are passed on by close physical contact, especially sex. They attach to hairs and are difficult to remove, laying eggs that hatch in a week. The main symptom is itchiness, but the lice can be cleared by a cream or lotion.