If you’re sexually active, these are some of the STIs you should be aware of.
Many people worry about whether they may get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI), but they feel funny asking their doctor about it. Instead, they scour the internet, looking for information about these infections and trying to figure out what they should do if they think they have one.
Here is some useful information about STIs, including the most common symptoms, what to do if you have symptoms (or don’t but think you were exposed) and how to prevent getting an STI.
What is a sexually transmitted infection?
As the name implies, STIs are infections that come from bacteria, viruses or parasites that are typically transmitted from one person to another through some form of sexual contact. In some cases, these infections can also be transmitted without sexual contact, such as from infected mothers to their unborn babies, by sharing needles or through blood transfusions.
“Most people do not know that the CDC recommends that all patients between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, but more often if certain risk factors exist. In 2020, Louisiana ranked 4th in the nation and Baton Rouge ranked 7th in the nation for new HIV case rates (New Orleans ranked 9th in the nation). For syphilis, Louisiana ranked 12th in the nation for syphilis case rates. These infections are prevalent in our community and the only way to decrease their spread is to know your status, protect yourself, and get treated if positive. If you have never been tested for HIV and want to know your status, please request testing by your primary care physician.”
What are symptoms of some of the most common STIs?
Some of the most common STIs include bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis, HIV, HPV, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), syphilis and trichomoniasis.
You may have one of these STIs if you experience any of the following:
- Pain or burning during urination or sex
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
- Sores or bumps on your genitals, anus or around your mouth
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Lower abdominal pain
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin (may also be in other parts of the body)
- Rash on your torso, hands or feet
Symptoms will differ depending on what type of STI you have. In many cases, people have no symptoms. But even if you don’t have symptoms, you may have complications down the road if an STI isn’t treated. You’ll also be able to still spread the infection to others.
What should you do if you think you might have an STI?
If you suspect you have an STI or think you may have been exposed to one, see a health professional. It’s easy to test for STIs and most are treatable. There are some STIs that can cause serious complications, but the sooner you know you have been infected and can begin treatment, the better.
How can you prevent getting or transmitting an STI?
There’s no guarantee that you won’t get an STI unless you don’t have sex or share needles, but here are some ways to lower your risk:
- Don’t have unprotected sex, including oral sex. Always use a latex condom and make sure it’s used properly.
- Reduce the number of sexual partners you have. The more people you have sex with, the higher the risk of getting an STI.
- Get tested. Before having sex with a new partner, you and your partner should get tested for STIs.
- Don’t misuse alcohol or recreational drugs. Substance use can make you more willing to participate in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex.
- Don’t share needles. Needle sharing can spread STIs, especially serious ones like HIV and hepatitis.
- Get vaccinated. You can’t prevent all STIs with vaccination, but there are vaccines available to protect against HPV, hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Consider PrEP. If you are at a high risk of contracting HIV, talk to your doctor about whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is right for you.
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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD