If you are sexually active, you could have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and not know it. Even without symptoms, you could spread an STI.
If you are sexually active, you could have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and not know it. Even without symptoms, you could spread an STI, which is also known as a sexually transmitted infection.
Getting treated for an STI early can prevent long-term complications.
Condoms can reduce your chances of spreading or contracting an STI, but some infections such as herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) can spread simply through skin-to-skin contact. Dental dams — either ready-to-use or improvised by cutting a condom into a flat sheet — can help protect against STIs during oral sex.
Limiting the number of partners, getting tested regularly and having candid conversations with your health care provider and partners can help prevent the spread. Most STIs can be treated easily and cured. If left untreated they can lead to serious complications.
Here are some of the more widespread STIs you can have and not know it.
HPV can be spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex and can be spread when the carrier has no signs or symptoms. Indeed, symptoms may not appear for years after you’ve been infected.
HPV usually goes away without causing any health issues. If HPV persists, it can cause genital warts and cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. HPV also can cause cancer in the back of the throat.
HPV vaccines are safe and effective and are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) starting at age 11 or 12. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you still can do so up to age 26.
There is currently no test for HPV.
Most who are infected do not have any symptoms.
If there are symptoms, they can appear a few weeks after infection and include
- Vaginal or penile discharge
- Painful urination
- Vaginal bleeding outside of menstruation
- Pelvic pain in individuals assigned female at birth
- Testicular pain
The CDC recommends testing every year for individuals assigned female at birth who are under age 25 and for those who are older with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners or a sex partner who has an STI. At-risk people who are pregnant should be tested regularly starting early in their pregnancy.
Sexually active gay and bisexual males should be tested at least once per year.
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Some people have no symptoms of gonorrhea at all. In those assigned female at birth, the symptoms may be so mild that they can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.
Assigned males who have symptoms may experience a burning sensation when urinating, penile discharge and, less commonly, painful or swollen testicles.
Symptoms in assigned females can include painful or burning urination, increased vaginal discharge and bleeding between periods.
If a rectal infection if a rectal infection is present, symptoms could include discharge, itching, soreness, bleeding or painful bowel movements.
Individuals assigned female at birth who are sexually active and under age 25 should be tested annually, according to the CDC. If they are 25 or older they should be tested annually if they have new or multiple sex partners or a partner who has an STI. Those who are at risk and are pregnant should be tested regularly starting early in pregnancy. All sexually active gay and bisexual males should be tested at least once a year.
Not everyone gets the painful red blisters associated with herpes, and even those who do can still spread it between breakouts. Most with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) have no symptoms or mild symptoms that can be mistaken for another skin condition.
When symptoms do appear, they will be herpes lesions as one or more small blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. There also may be pain when urinating and an itching sensation around the genitals.
The blisters break and leave painful ulcers that can take a few weeks after the initial infection to heal.
Condoms and dental dams can help prevent the spread of HSV. There’s no cure for herpes, but there are treatments to control the symptoms.
The CDC does not recommend HSV screening for the general population, but does describe a number of scenarios where a test would be appropriate. Consult with your health care provider if you think you need a test for HSV.
Trichomoniasis, sometimes referred to as “trich,” is the most common curable STI, according to the CDC. The parasitic infection typically has no noticeable symptoms
There are no symptoms for about 70% of the more than 2 million people infected each year with trichomoniasis. The parasite usually spreads from penis to vagina, vagina to penis or vagina to vagina.
Symptoms of trichomoniasis may include:
- Itching or irritation inside the penis
- Burning after urination or ejaculation
- Discharge from the penis
- Vaginal discharge that can be clear, white, yellowish, or greenish with an unusual fishy smell
- Itching, burning, redness or soreness of the female genitals
- Discomfort in the female urethra
Trichomoniasis can increase the risk of getting or spreading other sexually transmitted infections. Genital inflammation from trichomoniasis can make it easier to contract or pass HIV.
Your health care provider can test for trichomoniasis and, if the test is positive, can prescribe oral medication. The CDC does not recommend routine screenings among the general population. Screening is recommended for those assigned female at birth who are at high risk with multiple partners, exchanging sex for money, illicit drug use or a history of STIs.
Reviewed by Jessica R. Stumbo, M.D., internal medicine/pediatrics provider with Norton Community Medical Associates – LaGrange.