Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are spread usually through person-to-person sexual contact. There are more than 30 different types and many, in particular HIV and syphilis, can also be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and childbirth and through blood products and tissue transfer. STIs can lead to acute and chronic symptoms and can have serious delayed consequences such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer and very sadly the death of infants and adults. If you’re worried, or think you might have an STI, or have recently been exposed to the risk of an STI, or wish to discuss screening, testing and treatment you should do so now as early advice, testing and treatment is really important.

Signs and Symptoms

The following signs and symptoms may be present after an STI but remember that most are silent:

• Urethral discharge
• Genital ulcers
• Inguinal swellings (bubo, which is a swelling in the groin)
• Lower abdominal pain
• Painful intercourse
• Scrotal swelling (men)
• Vaginal discharge (women)
• Neonatal eye infections (newborn)

Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV

The presence of an untreated ulcerative or non-ulcerative STI (those which cause ulcers or those which do not) increases the risk of both getting and passing on HIV. So prompt treatment for STIs is vitally important to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Sexually Transmitted Infections and Women’s Health

STIs are the main preventable cause of infertility, particularly in women. Between 10% and 40% of women with untreated chlamydial infection develop symptomatic pelvic inflammatory disease. Post-infection tubal damage is responsible for 30% to 40% of cases of female infertility. Furthermore, women who have had pelvic inflammatory disease are 6 to 10 times more likely to develop an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy than those who have not, and 40% to 50% of ectopic pregnancies can be attributed to previous pelvic inflammatory disease. Infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus can lead to the development of genital cancers, particularly cervical cancer in women.

Sexually Transmitted Infections and Pregnancy

Untreated sexually transmitted infections are associated with congenital and perinatal infections in newborns. In pregnant women with untreated early syphilis, 25% of pregnancies result in stillbirth and 14% in neonatal death. Up to 35% of pregnancies among women with untreated gonococcal infection result in spontaneous abortions and premature deliveries and up to 10% of perinatal deaths. In the absence of treatment, 30% to 50% of infants born to mothers with untreated gonorrhoea and up to 30% of infants born to mothers with untreated chlamydial infection will develop a serious eye infection (ophthalmia neonatorum), which can lead to blindness if not treated early.

What Causes Them?

Common Bacterial Infections
• Neisseria gonorrhoeae (causes gonorrhoea or gonococcal infection)
• Chlamydia trachomatis (causes chlamydial infections)
• Treponema pallidum (causes syphilis)
• Haemophilus ducreyi (causes chancroid)
• Klebsiella granulomatis (previously known as Calymmatobacterium granulomatis causes granuloma inguinale or donovanosis).

Common Viral Infections
• Human immunodeficiency virus (causes AIDS)
• Herpes simplex virus type 2 (causes genital herpes)
• Human papillomavirus (causes genital warts and certain subtypes lead to cervical cancer in women)
• Hepatitis B virus (causes hepatitis and chronic cases may lead to cancer of the liver)
• Cytomegalovirus (causes inflammation in a number of organs including the brain, the eye, and the bowel).

Parasitic Organisms
• Trichomonas vaginalis (causes vaginal trichomoniasis) Candida albicans (causes vulvovaginitis in women; inflammation of the glans penis and foreskin [balano-posthitis] in men).

Ways to Prevent Them

Remember that most STIs are silent or may present with symptoms some time after the infection occurred. This makes it impossible to tell if you, a partner or potential partner is carrying an STI.

There are several ways of preventing infection:

  • always practice safe sex (oral, vaginal and anal sex)
  • male latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in reducing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections including gonorrhoea, chlamydial infection and trichomoniasis
  • when embarking on a new relationship, consider screening for STIs before starting any sexual activity
  • have sex only within a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner
  • abstaining from sex

Screening and Treatment

It is now possible to screen for many of the common STIs based on an internet ordered home sample urine test or blood test kit using a laboratory technique called PCR with results via confidential text or email.

Urine Test Kits will screen for
• Chlamydia
• Gonorrhoea
• Mycoplasma
• Ureaplasma
• Gardnerella
• Trichomona
• Herpes Simplex I/II

Blood Test Kits will screen for
• Hepatitis B
• Hepatitis C
• Syphilis

NHS: Testing is free on the NHS from genitourinary medicine clinics, sexual health clinics, many Family Planning Association and contraception clinics, your GP and pharmacies.

Our Private Testing and Treatment Services

You can have confidential private testing and treatment or screening via an internet ordered home sample urine test or blood test kit. Telephone 0345 230 3386 to order.