Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) are infections which can be passed on during sexual activities involving direct skin-to-skin contact and/or the exchange of bodily fluids (semen and vaginal fluid).
STIs can be a bacterial, viral or parasitic infection and they are a little sneaky, as they often have no signs or symptoms, so you may not even know if you or a partner has contracted one. And STIs don’t discriminate, it doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can get an STI.
STIs can cause damage to the body and lead to health problems if left untreated. This is why it’s important to know about STIs so you can protect yourself, and your partner, and reduce your chance of getting an infection.
Good news is that if you test often, infections are detected early and STIs can be easily treated. Most STIs are curable. Importantly, always use protection (condoms) during sex (vaginal, anal or oral) to significantly reduce your risk of contracting an STI.
Blood-borne viruses (BBVs) are viruses passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood contact and include hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Some BBVs (hepatitis B and HIV) are also classified as STIs as they are passed on through blood-to-blood contact and also through other bodily fluids (semen and vaginal fluid).
Like STIs, BBVs often have no early signs or symptoms, and can cause long term damage to the body.
To avoid contracting a BBV, avoid situations where your blood could come into contact with someone else’s blood (e.g. sharing drug injecting equipment, unsterilised tattoo or body piercing equipment, sharing toothbrushes, razors etc.) and use condoms during sex (vaginal, anal and oral).
You can also talk to your doctor about the hepatitis B vaccine; unfortunately there are no vaccines for hepatitis C and HIV.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, Ectopic Pregnancy and Infertility
Some STIs that have been left untreated have been linked to an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) (an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes), ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants and grows in the fallopian tube) and infertility (difficulty in becoming pregnant) in females. They have also been associated with complications during pregnancy such as premature delivery, low birth weight and newborn infection.
In males, untreated STIs can cause long-term infection of the testicles, chronic pain and reduced fertility (lowered sperm count).
Common STIs & BBVs
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can infect the reproductive organs. It is the most common STI amongst young people in Australia and is spread from one person to another by either vaginal, anal or oral sex. Unfortunately, chlamydia often doesn’t show any signs or symptoms, and if left untreated, chlamydia can cause long term problems in both men and women.
More information on chlamydia
Genital herpes is a virus that causes small painful blisters in the genital areas. The infection is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex, along with skin to skin contact of the genitals. The first outbreak of blisters is usually the worst with later outbreaks generally becoming less severe and less frequent. These symptoms can be managed with specific creams and antiviral medication if needed. Once infected, the herpes virus remains in a person’s system for life even though the symptoms may not be present.
More information on genital herpes
Genital warts and HPV – Human Papillomvirus
Genital warts, caused by some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), are usually spread through skin to skin contact or during vaginal or anal sex. There are many types of HPV. Some do not show up as visible warts but they can lead to life threatening cancers – most commonly cervical, throat and anal. Since the introduction of the HPV vaccination in 2007 the prevalence of genital warts and HPV in the Australian population under age 26 has fallen.
More information on HPV
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection passed on through vaginal, anal or oral sex and if left untreated, can cause long term health effects like infertility. You may not have immediate symptoms with gonorrhoea however symptoms may include unusual discharge or pain around the genitals (especially in men) or pain when urinating.
More information on gonorrhoea
Hepatitis B (hep B) is an infectious virus that can cause serious liver disease. Transmitted through bodily fluids, hep B can be transferred through unprotected sex, sharing needles or tattoo equipment/ink, or through cuts/grazes. Symptoms appear in about half the number of people who get infected and include fever and extreme tiredness, abdominal pain, dark urine or pale faeces, yellow skin (jaundice), poor appetite or nausea/vomiting. Most young people in Australia born after 1990 should have been vaccinated against hep B, either through the schools’ catch-up program or the universal neonatal vaccine.
More information on hepatitis B
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that doesn’t immediately show any symptoms though swollen glands, flu-like symptoms, painless lumps or ulcers on genitals, and a rash across the entire body may develop. Longer term, syphilis can have serious health effects for those infected including blindness, brain damage and heart disease.
More information on syphilis
Caused by a parasite, trichomoniasis may cause vaginal discharge (often with an unpleasant smell) and itching and pain around the genitals. Trichomoniasis affects both males and females and is treated with oral antibiotics.
More information on trichomoniasis
Mycoplasma genitalium is a bacterial infection that can cause inflammation of the urethra or cervix, stinging or burning when urinating, or a discharge from the penis/vagina. Symptoms can take a few weeks to develop and are treated with oral antibiotics.
More information on mycoplasma genitalium
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the immune system, can lead to serious infections and can sometimes cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) if undetected and untreated. HIV is usually spread by vaginal or anal sex without a condom, but also by sharing drug injecting equipment and from mother to baby via breast milk. In rare cases it can be spread by oral sex or needle stick injuries.
More information on HIV