Sexually Transmitted Infections

What are sexually transmitted infections?

Sexually transmitted infections are also called venereal diseases and are infections that are transmitted through any kind of sexual contact. This includes vaginal, oral and anal sex, exchange or joint use of sexual appliances, touching that causes transmission of sexual fluids, or in some cases even kissing. STIs can be transferred from mother to a child in pregnancy, during childbirth or through breastfeeding.

These infections do not stay confined just to sexual organs and can spread to other organs, body parts and systems in the body (for example, hepatitis is a liver infection, untreated syphilis can affect heart or nervous system, AIDS targets the immune system…). It is very important to discover and treat these infections on time in order to prevent complications because while some may be benign, others can be more serious, leading, in some cases to lethal outcome. Most STIs are successfully treated these days, but it should not be forgotten that for some of the viral STIs today, like HIV and hepatitis, there still is no cure.

These infections can potentially infect any sexually active person – men and women alike – but young people are more at risk. A large problem here is that many STIs have no symptoms or have only light symptoms that are easily ignored.

  • These are some of the symptoms that need to be recognised:
  • Small sores near vagina, penis, anus or mouth
  • Intensified vaginal secrete in women or secrete from the urinary tract in men
  • Itch, rash or irritation n the genital region
  • Enlarged glands in the groin region
  • Dull pain in the lower abdomen or back
  • Testicular pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain or prickling sensation during urination, frequent urination or any other discomfort during urination
  • Vaginal bleeding between two menstrual periods

It is not to be forgotten that some infections have no symptoms for a long time and can cause serious complications including sterility.

If you feel any of the symptoms or discomfort, you and your partner should see a doctor to establish a proper diagnosis and prescribe a therapy.

If treated on time, STIs can be cured, mostly without any longer term harm. Both partners should be treated at all times. If only one partner is treated and they still have sex with no protection, then the treatment is in vein.

Contemporary science has discovered many different causes of sexually transmitted infections. Here is a short breakdown, according to the microorganisms causing them:

  • Bacterial infections: syphilis, gonorrhoea, mycoplasmic and ureaplasmic infections
  • Fungal infections: candidiasis
  • Protozoal infection: trichomonas
  • Viral infections: HIV, hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus infection, genital herpes
  • Infections by intracellular parasites: Chlamydia
  • Parasite infection: pubic lice

 

Bacterial infections:

Infections caused by chlamydia and mycoplasma

These are caused by Chlamydia trachomatis and Mycoplasma hominis/Ureaplasma urealytikum.

They frequently come paired, with person suffering both infections at once. It can take between 7 and 21 from the moment of infection to the occurrence of first symptoms, although it may happen that there are no symptoms at all.

Symptoms are different for men and women. For men, there is moderate amount of secrete in the morning, during urination – usually only one drop from the urethra accompanied by the prickling and burning sensation in the urethra. Women often do not have any symptoms. Sometimes, they experience vaginal secrete, pain in the lower abdomen or during sexual intercourse, ovaries inflammation, prickling feeling during urination. It is mostly discovered during routine health checkups and/ or during examinations related to treatment of sterility.

How to diagnose and treat?

The diagnosis relies on getting samples from the genitals or blood samples. It is necessary for both partners to get antibiotic treatment. If not treated on time, there is a high risk of complications including sterility due to damage to reproductive organs.

 

Gonorrhoea

Caused by bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoea. After the contact with the infected person, there is a short incubation period (3 to 14 days), and then the problems start. Symptoms are different for men and women. The men have yellow, purulent secrete from the urethra followed by a prickling sensation during urination. Women have fewer symptoms – sometimes a prickling sensation during urination or vaginal secrete but very often nothing at all.

How to diagnose and treat?

The diagnosis relies on getting samples from the genitals or blood samples. Both partners need to get antibiotic treatment. If not treated on time, there is a high risk of complications including sterility due to damage to reproductive organs.

 

Syphilis

Caused by Treponema pallidum. The problems occur 2 to 6 weeks after sexual contact with the infected. Infected mother can also transmit syphilis to its unborn child. Men and women experience same symptoms. In the first stadium painless small sores occur on genitalia, mouth and anus, often followed by swelling of nearby lymph nodes. In the second stadium, pink spots on skin appear, or discs in mouth or on genitalia. If untreated, in the third stadium it attacks different organs – most frequently heart and nervous system.

How to diagnose and treat?

Diagnosis relies on the sample taken from the sore before the treatment can be started as well as on taking blood samples. It is treated by antibiotics. Failure to treat or incorrect treatment by taking antibiotics without physician’s monitoring can lead to serious complications especially in regards to the cardiovascular and nervous systems, even many years after the infection.

 

Viral infections

Genital herpes

Caused by Herpes simplex type II. This infection is very easily transmitted. The problems usually start about a week after sexual contact with the infected. The symptoms are small sores on genitalia, usually numerous and painful. They are foreshadowed by small irritation, prickling and itch and when occurring for the first time (primary herpes), they are followed by fever (shivers, increased body temperature). These sores come periodically, stay for a few days and then disappear until the next occurrence.

How to diagnose and treat?

Diagnosis relies on samples taken from the sores before the treatment can be started as well as on taking blood samples. The treatment uses antiviral drugs. If a pregnant woman has genital herpes, there is a huge risk of transmitting it to the baby during delivery.

 

Genital condyloma (genital warts) – HPV infection

Condyloma are genital warts caused by human papillomavirus. This is a group of approximately 100 viruses 30 of which are considered sexually transmittable. One person can have several different HPVs at the same time.

They are transmitted through sexual intercourse, however, they can also be transmitted by hand (during petting) and from a mother to a child during childbirth. This is because these viruses can be easily transmitted through mere touch between skin and mucous membrane.

The period between infection and the occurrence of warts can be anywhere from several weeks to several months. In addition to causing warts in genital and anal regions, some of these viruses can cause changes in cellular structure. It is scientifically established that some HPV types are associated with occurrence of cervical cancer in women and anal carcinoma in both sexes.

How to diagnose and treat?

It is discovered through examination. The diagnosis is confirmed through specialist examination (colposcopy for women). Local treatment should be repeated until the changes visible to the naked eye are reversed as well as all the changes that can be discovered through specialist examination are gone. The end of treatment is to be determined by the physician. In case of inadequate treatment for some women this infection can lead to the onset of cervical cancer. Treatment of this infection does not use a cure (a pill or injecting drug) and is limited to removal of warts. It is possible for the immune system to manage to overcome the infection itself.

 

Hepatitis B, C, D (jaundice)

Caused by hepatitis B, C and D viruses. Period from the moment of infection to the first onset of problems can be several weeks or months. The disease does not manifest itself in genital regions. It is a systemic disease mainly focusing on liver and this is where the majority of symptoms occur.

How to diagnose and treat?

Diagnosis relies on blood test. These sorts of hepatitis are chronic diseases. The complications include cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. Treatment is complicated and demands either a gastroenterologist or infectious diseases specialist. There is however a vaccine for hepatitis B.

 

STIs caused by protozoa

Trichomoniasis

Caused by Trichomonas vaginalis. The problems occur several days up to three weeks upon infection. Men have purulent discharge from the urethra and difficulties/ prickling sensation during urination. Women have vaginal inflammation followed by yellow-green secrete characterised by unpleasant odour as well as difficulties during urination.

How to diagnose and treat?

Diagnosis relies on taking samples. Treated by antibiotics.

 

STIs caused by fungi

Candidiasis

Caused by Candida albicans. Depending on the immune system of the person the infection can manifest itself after several days, months and even years after contact. Men have redness and irritation of the glans with white discharge and women have white, cheese-like discharge followed by itch and rash.

How to diagnose and treat?

This is a banal infection although can come back if not treated properly. The diagnosis relies on microscopic examination of vaginal secrete/ glans sample. Local treatment – gels, creams and vaginal suppositories – is usually sufficient.