Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

They are increasingly common infections spread via sexual contact with an infected partner. Sexually transmitted infections can be caused by:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites

The most common are:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Genital warts
  • Herpes
  • Trichomonas vaginalis
  • Pubic lice

Less common are:

  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis B (more common among injecting drug users)
  • HIV

STI’s often have no visible symptoms. Sometimes people can tell they are infected, for example by the appearance of an unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or anus, a burning sensation while urinating, sores or blisters on the penis, vagina, anus or mouth or an itch around the genitals or private parts.

How do people get an STI?

STI’s are spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sexual contactwith somebody who is infected. As you might have noticed, the inside of the mouth, vagina, anus, and penis is lined with a special  skin. This lining is called the mucous membrane. Bacteria and viruses that cause diseases live on this lining. When you have unprotected sex they can move from one person’s mucous membrane to the other person’s. And that’s all you need for infection to take place. A mother infected with a STI can pass the disease on to her baby during the pregnancy or delivery. People who are infected may not have any symptoms. They can still pass a STI on to others.

What happens when somebody has a STI?

Most STI’s are completely treatable, and the individual will suffer no long-term effects. However, the consequences of untreated STI’s can cause serious health problems, and presents a significant public health problem. Chlamydia is a well established cause of pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. The presence of a STI can also increase the risk of HIV infection.

Some sexually transmitted infections can recur spontaneously. For example, herpes and genital warts will disappear after treatment but may come back later.

How can you avoid infection?

  • Practice “safer sex”.
  • Attend a sexual health clinic/prison medical service for regular check-ups.

Normal daily social contact presents no risk of infection.