Taking care of one’s sexual health means regularly testing for HIV/STIs, taking PrEP or ART and accessing regular screenings. Many people may leave STIs untreated which can lead to health and relationship problems that make them and their partner more susceptible to other infections that can attack the immune system. This is why, for STI/Condom Week, we should look at prioritising our sexual health and learning more about STIs.
People can become infected by STIs through having sex without a condom with a partner who already has the STI. Most people who get STIs do not show any symptoms as many STIs can be active in the system without causing any signs or symptoms. Where symptoms do develop this may include abnormal discharge, pain when urinating, open sores or warts around genitals, swellings around the groin area and pain in the lower abdomen. Some people can also develop painful, red eyes or a sore throat or a full-body rash when infected by certain STIs.
STIs can affect anyone who is sexually active regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that, in 2016, there were approximately 377 million people aged 15-49 years newly infected with gonorrhoea, chlamydia, herpes or HPV (four common, treatable or preventable STIs).
Most STIs can be avoided by using condoms correctly and reliably every time you have sex. If you do end up contracting an STI, it can be treated at your local doctor or clinic.
If you have a new partner it is important to go to the clinic together, if you can, to get screened for STIs and HIV before having sex, especially if you are thinking of not using condoms together. If your partner develops symptoms of an STI or is treated for an STI it is important for both of you to complete a course of treatment.
Let’s look at the common STIs:
Human papillomavirus (HPV), also known as genital warts, can be treated with a cream or gel. For more severe infections it may be necessary to have them removed by a clinician. HPV also can cause cervical cancer. This is preventable and young girls should receive the vaccine to prevent HPV infection.
Genital herpes is a common infection that can usually be identified by pain around your genitals and sores. It’s easy to treat if you chat to your doctor or clinician as soon as you see any signs of sores or feel unusual pain around your genitals. It requires a course of tablets. It is important to complete the full course. Despite taking your medication, genital herpes can recur and, if it does, you will need to be treated again.
Chlamydia is one of the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infections. Symptoms include pain when you pee and an unusual discharge from your penis. Prescription antibiotics are often used to treat it quickly and successfully.
Gonorrhea is similar to chlamydia; it’s caused by a bacterial infection. It can also cause a discharge or swelling but often has no symptoms at all.
It is quite common for people to get more than one infection at a time, and it can be almost impossible for your doctor or nurse to tell one STI apart from another. For this reason, it is normal for you to be given one injection and two different types of pills for treatment so that we can be sure you have received full treatment for all the most common STIs.
If your symptoms do not get better, it is important to return to the clinic to be reviewed again in case you need further treatment. Your partner must also access treatment so that they do not re-infect you.
STI/Condom Week is aimed not only at reducing the spread of STI but also to curb the spread of HIV. The week also aims at educating communities on the importance of using condoms properly and removing the stigma around STIs. By removing the stigma around STIs, those who are infected may not feel shy or ashamed to get tested and treated, and by educating on proper condom use we will prevent the spread to others. STI/Condom Week seeks to encourage talking about how to have safer sex, how using condoms is an excellent practice.
For more information, please visit your nearest yellow dot doctor today! To find your nearest doctor, visit https://yellowdotdoctor.co.za/
Phumlani Kango is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute and these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.