Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are spread from one person to another in the following ways:
- Unprotected sexual contact.
- Bodily fluids.
- If you touch the infected area of another person and then yourself.
- From mother to child during pregnancy and birth.
- By sharing needles.
STIs are transmissible and carry health risks if left untreated.
Remember: Don't neglect your sexual health. Contraceptives (oral and injectables) do not protect you from STIs.
Common STIs include:
- Syphilis is a bacterial infection that usually starts as a painless sore, a rash on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. There may also be no symptoms.
- Genital herpes is marked by painful sores and blisters.
- Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea usually cause genital discharge but there may also be no symptoms.
- Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The characteristic symptom is a small bump on the genitals.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, may cause genital warts, and some of the subtypes can also cause cervical cancer, and mouth and throat cancer. It can also cause anal or genital cancer.
People living with HIV have a higher risk of contracting an STI as the virus attacks cells in the immune system, which is our body’s natural defence against illness.
Signs and symptoms of an infection
- Discharge from your penis or vagina.
- Swollen glands, body aches and fever.
- Warts or sores on and around your penis or vagina.
- Pains or burning when urinating.
- Pain while having sex.
- A rash or itching in and around your pubic area.
- Small blisters on and around your penis or vagina.
- Weight loss.
- Mild to severe lower abdominal pain, sometimes fever, with or without vaginal discharge.
- Scrotal swelling.
How you can protect yourself
Using a condom properly can reduce the risk of getting infected. You should:
- Check the expiry date on condom packaging before you use the condom.
- Use condoms that are made of latex, as it’s more effective.
- Open the condom packet carefully so that you don’t break the condom. Don't use your teeth.
- Always put the condom on before you make any sexual contact.
- Get tested for an STI before having sex with your partner for the first time.
- Avoid having sex when you're receiving treatment for an STI.
- Inform your partner if you have been diagnosed with an STI.
- Ask your partner/s to get treatment for STI if you’re receiving treatment for STI.
Never leave an STI untreated, it won’t go away on its own. If you think that you may have an STI, you can visit a clinic that provides reproductive and healthcare services. Healthcare services for STIs are free at a public health facility.
If you suspect you have an STI, your healthcare worker will do the following where appropriate:
During your consultation:
- Be prepared to discuss your sexual history.
- Have a physical examination done.
- Be screened for breast and cervical cancer.
- Receive health education and counselling including condom promotion, demonstration and provision.
- Receive a diagnosis and discuss treatment.
- Be offered HIV counselling and testing including appropriate referral if required for treatment.
- Receive a Partner notification slip(s) for your partner to be assessed and treated if necessary.
- Referral to other services as required.
- The healthcare worker will keep notes and open a folder to record the consultation. Confidentiality is ensured.
Don't neglect your sexual health.