Many people are surprised to learn that Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) in the United States are on the rise. Despite the availability of public health education, awareness campaigns and access to condoms, nationally reported cases of STI’s reached an all-time high in 2018.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the three most common sexually transmitted infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. The presence of a STI in women is particularly important because symptoms are not always visible, and an untreated infection may result in future fertility problems.
Signs and symptoms of common STI’s
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
These are the two most prevalent STI’s. Common symptoms include abnormal, discoloured discharge or a burning sensation when passing urine. Most importantly, these infections do not always have symptoms. Therefore, routine testing is important.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Common symptoms include pain, itching or discomfort in the genital area. Small red bumps or tiny white blisters may also be seen. These may appear a few days to a few weeks after infection.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact. The disease starts as a painless sore — typically on the genitals, rectum or mouth. Common symptoms are a rash that usually won’t itch. Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands or sore throat that appear a few weeks after infection.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a viral infection that commonly causes warts such as genital warts. Because some strains of the virus can lead to cancer, routine pap smear testing is essential.
Testing for a STI
All sexually active women should get tested for STI’s on a regular basis. Even if you don’t have symptoms, routine STI testing is mandatory for good health. STI testing is particularly important if:
- You’re in a new relationship with a new partner.
- You’re sexually active but not in a mutually monogamous relationship.
- You exhibit any symptoms of a STI mentioned above such as: genital itching, rashes in the genital area or abnormal discharge
Treatment options will depend on the specific infection. In some cases, a course of antibiotics is all that is needed. Other STI’s may require more detailed treatment.
An untreated or undiagnosed STI can lead to fertility problems in the future. Therefore, women with any of the symptoms mentioned above or those falling into one of the higher risk groups discussed should make an appointment to get tested.
Women are particularly susceptible to long term complications of STI’s. An untreated or undiagnosed STI can lead to fertility problems in the future. Women with any of the symptoms mentioned above or those falling into one of the higher risk groups discussed should make an appointment to get tested.
The most effective ways to protect yourself from a STI are protection and testing.
- Protection – Practicing safe sex (i.e., ask your partner to use a condom) is the single best way to protect yourself from getting infected.
- Testing – Getting tested on a regular basis is the second-best way to keep yourself safe.
The absence of symptoms is not a reliable predictor of who may or may not have a STI. If in doubt, get tested!