The number of cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in Europe is increasing every year, with an estimated 17 million new cases per annum in Western Europe. If you engage in unprotected sexual activity, you are putting yourself at risk of potentially contracting an STI.
Bacterial infections are easily treatable with a straightforward course of antibiotic treatment. Even for incurable STIs, such as genital herpes, the outbreaks themselves are easily treatable.
What is an STI?
STIs (also referred to as STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases) are sexually transmitted infections that can be classed as either bacterial, viral, or parasitic. These infections are spread via close contact during vaginal, anal, and oral unprotected sex. Practicing safe sex would significantly decrease the risk of developing any STIs. Parasitic and bacterial STIs can be easily treated with the correct prescription medication, however, viral STIs aren’t curable, but can be effectively managed as they usually appear as mild bouts.
Different Types of STIs
Viruses, bacteria or parasites can cause sexually transmitted infections. The most common STIs, however, tend to be bacterial and include infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Viral STIs are also fairly common, especially in the form of genital warts and genital herpes. The majority of STIs are curable and if they can’t be cured they can be effectively managed with the help of antiviral or antiretroviral treatments. However, when it comes to STIs, prevention is always better than cure.
These types of infections develop as the result of bacteria that are passed from person to person during sexual contact. They tend to affect areas such as the vagina, urethra, cervix, rectum, mouth, and throat of the person that’s been infected, but can also spread to areas that are similarly mucosal, such as the eyes. Some more serious bacteria like Treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis, can eventually start to spread to the central nervous system if it’s not treated in time.
It’s very easy for bacterial STIs to spread because they aren’t likely to cause symptoms. This means that people may not realize they are infected and so will be at a high risk of passing on the STI to any new partner.
Common bacterial STIs are:
- Gonorrhoea (caused by Neisseria gonorrhoea)
- Chlamydia (caused by chlamydia trachomatis)
- Syphilis (caused by Treponema pallidum)
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Mycoplasma genitalium
- Non-specific urethritis
How are bacterial STIs treated?
Most bacterial STIs can be treated with a single course of antibiotics, however, the cause of the infection will have to be established with the help of an STI test first. Syphilis and gonorrhea tend to be more difficult to treat, particularly syphilis, which can require hospitalization.
Viral STIs are infections that are caused by viruses. These viruses mainly pass via sexual intercourse. This may be vaginal, anal, or oral, but doesn’t just require bodily fluids to pass from one partner to another. Most viral STIs can never be fully cured, but they can be managed to the point where they are hardly noticeable.
Although the most common types of viral infections like genital herpes and warts aren’t likely to be dangerous, HIV has the potential to cause very serious complications. Just like bacterial STIs, viral STIs might not be noticeable at first, but genital herpes and warts may start causing visible symptoms such as wart-like mounds in and around the genital area and anus (genital warts) or a blister-like rash accompanied by discomfort (genital herpes). Genital herpes can cause sporadic outbreaks that go away after a while.
Common viral STIs include:
- Genital herpes (caused by the herpes simplex virus type II)
- Genital warts (caused by the human papilloma virus HPV)
- HIV (caused by the human immunodeficiency virus)
How are viral STIs treated?
Genital herpes is generally treated as and when an outbreak happens with the help of antiviral medicines and creams, however, if outbreaks frequently recur, an antiviral medication can be administered as a preventative technique. Genital warts are mostly treated with antiviral creams until the external symptoms of the infection go away. HIV requires more long-term management with the help of antiretroviral treatments.
Parasitic STIs are also passed through direct sexual contact or sometimes simply though direct contact with the genital area affected by the parasite. They tend to be dependent on a human host to survive and are organisms that are so small that an infestation may not become noticeable until much later. Parasites aren’t likely to be dangerous and are more likely to cause discomfort, although trichomonas vaginalis can affect long-term reproductive health.
Common parasitic STIs include:
- Trichomonas vaginalis (caused by the Trichomoniasis parasite)
- Crabs (caused by the Pediculosis pubis louse)
- Scabies (caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mites)
How are parasitic STIs treated?
Parasitic STIs can also be treated with the help of oral antibiotics (trichomonas vaginalis) or creams (scabies) however, crabs is usually treated by shaving the genital area and/or applying insecticide cream, lotions or shampoos.
Sexually transmitted infections don’t cause symptoms in everybody who has them, which is why they are so easily spread between sexual partners. Just because there is a lack of symptoms it doesn’t mean that there is no infection. It’s also dangerous to assume that an STI has gone away if the symptoms aren’t noticeable any longer. Many sexually transmitted infections can be present and spreading within the body, without causing any immediate uncomfortable effects.
However, should you notice any symptoms that resemble those discussed in more detail below, you should go for an STI test to establish the cause and get the right medication.
Common STI symptoms
Below you’ll find a clearer indication of the different symptoms experienced by people with some of the most commonly occurring STIs today.
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection that is bacterial in nature. More often than not it won’t cause any symptoms, which is why it can spread so easily from one person to another. Although chlamydia may not always cause immediate discomfort that warrants treatment, it can eventually cause damage to your reproductive health, which can lead to infertility. These are some of the most common side effects associated with chlamydia, and as you may notice, they are often overlooked because they are similar to other, more general infections:
- Pain when urinating
- Pain in the lower abdomen (women)
- Vaginal discharge (women)
- Penile discharge (men)
- Testicular pain (men)
- Pain during sex (women)
Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to treat. As with chlamydia, the symptoms aren’t always noticeable or may be confused with other infections. Symptoms of gonorrhoea can include:
- Thick, bloody or cloudy discharge from the penis or vagina
- Unusual menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods (women)
- Pain when urinating
- Swollen testicles (men)
- Painful bowel movements
- Anal itching
Genital herpes is a viral STI that can cause sporadic outbreaks of blisters on and around the genital area. Once a person has the virus, it stays in the body and tends to go through phases where it’s more active than others. Genital herpes isn’t likely to cause complications, but it’s a good idea to manage the condition to help deal with any discomfort. Symptoms of genital herpes will usually include:
- Tingling or burning sensation around the genital area right before blisters start to appear
- Painful red blisters around the genitals, thighs, buttocks and anus
- Blisters on the cervix (women)
- Pain when passing urine
- Vaginal discharge
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should go to your doctor for a test immediately, as it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.
STI Risk Factors
Sexually transmitted infections are a risk for any sexually active person, but there are certain factors that could increase the chances of contracting one. These factors include the following:
- Unprotected sexual intercourse
- History of STIs
- Sex with multiple partners
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex is one of the most common ways in which sexually transmitted infections spread. Not using barrier contraception such as a condom during sex can significantly increase your chances of getting a bacterial STI from a partner. For example, if a man with gonorrhoea were to have unprotected sex with a female partner, there is a 70 – 80% chance the infection will be passed on to his partner during vaginal sex.
The risk of STI transmission through unprotected oral sex is lower, but it’s still a possibility and therefore the use of condoms or dental dams is always recommended when you perform oral sex on a new partner.
Some STIs can make you more susceptible to other infections; for example, a person with genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhoea or chlamydia tends to be more vulnerable to contracting a serious STI like HIV. Some STIs, such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, may also be accompanied by other infections such as non-specific urethritis, which can cause serious health complications
The more partners you have sex with, the greater your risk of exposure to STIs. This is because it is often more difficult to be sure of your partner’s sexual history and STI status if the relationship is more casual. However, even if you enter into a monogamous relationship, you can’t exclude the risk of STIs completely unless both partners agree to do a test before having unprotected sex.
Alcohol and drug abuse can make you more likely to make poor decisions because of the effect it can have on your reasoning. Recreational drug use that involves the use of needles is a known risk factor for sexually transmitted infections such as hepatitis C and HIV, which is why you’ll be asked during your visit to a sexual health clinic, whether you’ve injected any illegal substances or if you have had sexual intercourse with someone where this was likely to be the case.
This type of questioning is conducted in the strictest confidence and is just so the clinic know whether to test you for hepatitis C, as it’s not a very common infection.
Your age is considered to be a factor that can influence how likely you are to have an STI. This is due to the likelihood that a person will engage in risky sexual behaviour during certain stages of their life. Teenagers and young people tend to be particularly at risk, however research has shown that STIs are increasing in older people, most likely due to a lack of awareness of these infections.
Adolescent girls also tend to be more at risk of contracting STIs because of the constantly changing nature of the maturing cervix cells.
STIs are increasing every year, with reports of more and more people seeking tests and treatment for these infections. Young people aged 15 to 24 tend to be the group in which sexually transmitted infections are most prevalent, especially bacterial infections like chlamydia.
Overall statistics indicate that STIs are more likely to affect people in deprived areas within large cities, although these infections are still a risk to anyone who is sexually active, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic circumstances.
Chlamydia is still one of the most common STIs in the UK and it might be even more common than statistics suggest. This is due to its asymptomatic nature, meaning that people do not know they are infected, and so an exact figure of infected individuals is not calculable.
Over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people diagnosed, from 60,000 people in 2000 to 160,000 people in 2010. Worryingly, this number is still increasing.
Gonorrhoea is a common bacterial STI, although it’s not as prevalent as chlamydia. The number of people with the infection is increasing and there are worries that this could be due to the fact that the bacteria that causes the infection is becoming less responsive to conventional methods of treatment.
The infection tends to be more common in men, however this may be due to the fact that men are more likely to experience symptoms and therefore are more likely to be tested and receive treatment.
Genital herpes is a viral infection that is becoming increasingly common. Experts believe this is due to the fact that young people are showing changes in their sexual behaviour. This has lead to an increase in oral sex and a decreased immunity to the HSV-1 virus, which is responsible for cold sores, although genital herpes is still most commonly caused by the HSV-2 virus.
Since the year 2000 there has been a steady increase in the number of people being diagnosed with this infection, from 70,000 in 2000 to 100,000 in 2010.
Genital warts are more common than people realise and the infection is one of the most widespread in the UK. Diagnosis statistics have shown a significant increase in people over the age of 45 over the last decade.
Not many people are aware of bacterial vaginosis, but it is actually quite common and may occur alongside infections like chlamydia. Over the last decade, diagnosed cases of this infection have more than doubled.
Infections like mycoplasma genitalium, ureaplasma urealyticum, trichomonas vaginalis, syphilis and non-specific urethritis have all shown an increase since 2000, but syphilis in particular has recently becoming a matter of concern in the UK due to a rise in the number of cases amongst homosexual men.
Can I buy STI treatment online?
You can buy clinically proven medication for the treatment of STIs from online pharmacy. The STIs we provide effective treatment for include gonorrhoea, genital warts, chlamydia, genital herpes, bacterial vaginosis (BV), non-specific urethritis, mycoplasma genitalium, trichomonas vaginalis and ureaplasma urealyticum.