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Sexually transmitted infections –what are they and how do they present?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that commonly spread by sex, all types of sex i.e. vaginal, oral and anal sex. The organisms (bacteria, viruses or parasites) that cause sexually transmitted infections may pass from person to person in blood, semen or vaginal and other body fluids.

Sexually transmitted infections don’t always cause symptoms. Because of this, they may go unnoticed until complications occur or a partner is diagnosed.

If STIs do cause symptoms in men, these include

· Burning on passing urine

· Discharge from the penis

· Sores or bumps on the genitals or in the or rectal area

· Itching of the genitals

· Rashes over the trunk, hands and feet

· Bleeding and discharge from the back passage

If STIs do cause symptoms in women, these include

· Changes in colour or smell or consistency of vaginal discharge

· Lower abdominal pain

· Pain when having sex

· Bleeding in between periods

· Bleeding after sex

· Sores or bumps on the genitals

· Rashes over the trunk, hands and feet

Anyone who is sexually active risks some degree of exposure to an STI. Factors that may increase that risk include:

1. Having unprotected sex i.e. sex without condoms (including inconsistent and improper use of condoms)

2. Having sexual contact with multiple partners. The more people one has sexual contact with, the greater the risk.

3. Having sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol including chemsex.

4. Having a history of STIs. Having one STI makes it easier for another STI to take hold.

Although most STI’s are curable if they are left untreated they can have serious consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself. STIs such as Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are major causes of inflammation of testicles (epididymo-orchitis) in men and pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women.

Counselling and behavioural interventions are crucial in preventing STIs. This includes safer sex advice, risk-reduction counselling and condom promotion. In addition, counselling can improve people’s ability to recognise the symptoms of STIs and increase the likelihood they will seek care or encourage a sexual partner to do so.

STI testing at the GU clinic is recommended before the start of a new sexual relationship or if there is a change in sexual partner/s or if the person notices any of the above symptoms.

This is part of a series of monthly posts by:

Dr Donia Gamoudi.

Genitourinary (GU) Medicine doctor 


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