Science

The Gair Rhydd guide to STIs

University is known to be full of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but rocking and rolling between the sheets without taking precautions or knowing the risks could leave you a little worse for wear. More than half of people will get some kind of STI in their lifetime, and according to the Health Protection Agency, young people aged 15-24 are among those at the highest risk.

Condoms and dental dams massively decrease your chance of contracting an STI – hence why they’re thrown around like confetti during Freshers’ week. But if the worst does happen, and you’re worried that you’ve caught something nasty, the best thing to do is to go to your GP and get yourself tested. Some STIs can have serious consequences to your health if left untreated, and can even be passed from a mother to her unborn baby.

Here’s a run-down of the most common STIs, their symptoms and how you can get them treated.

Chlamydia

This is a bacterial infection, usually spread through sex or contact with infected genitals. The reason why it is one of the most common STIs in the UK is because often you won’t notice any symptoms and don’t know you have it.

Symptoms – If you do present symptoms, you’ll likely experience pain when urinating or unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum. Women may feel pain in the tummy, bleeding during or after sex, or bleeding between periods. Men may notice pain or swelling in the testicles. If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to infertility in women.

Testing and treatment – A urine test or a swab test can be used to test for chlamydia, which can be done by a nurse or doctor, or can be done at home with a testing kit. The accuracy of these home tests, however may vary.

Herpes

Herpes is a common viral STI passed by direct contact. As it can affect any mucous membrane, such as the skin of the mouth or vagina, it is often passed through intimate sexual contact, but can also be transmitted through kissing depending on the type of virus. There are two types of herpes virus, type 1, which is usually associated with oral herpes, and type 2, which is associated with genital herpes.

Symptoms – Herpes will appear as a collection of small blisters on the affected area, which can leave painful ulcers. These may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Herpes is known as a chronic condition, meaning that once the virus has infected you, it will stay there long term and will cause a recurrence of symptoms multiple times. Over time, however, outbreaks become less frequent and less severe.

Testing and treatment – Herpes is tested for by collecting a swab of the fluid from a blister. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for genital or oral herpes. Symptoms may be relieved by taking antiviral medicines, and blisters or ulcers will heal quickly with proper care.

Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by a viral STI. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is spread though skin-to-skin contact, and although it is more likely to be passed on while warts are present, it is still possible to pass them on before they have developed or after they have disappeared.

Symptoms – The warts themselves are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that are usually painless and do not pose a serious threat to health.

Testing and Treatment – A doctor will confirm whether any irregularities are in fact genital warts. Treatment is similar to that for any other wart: several options are available, such as chemical creams or cryotherapy where the warts are frozen.

Gonorrhoea

Despite being the STI with probably the worst sounding name, gonorrhoea is easily tested for and easily treated. You may know it better as ‘The Clap’ and it is passed between people through unprotected sex – vaginal, anal or oral. The bacteria can infect the cervix, the urethra, the rectum or, less commonly, the throat and eyes.

Symptoms – Typical symptoms of gonorrhoea include a thick green or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina, pain when urinating, and in women, bleeding between periods. There are times, however, when gonorrhoea is symptomless. It is important to get tested as if left untreated the STI can lead to more serious long-term health problems such as pelvic-inflammatory disease (PID) in women, or possibly even infertility.

Testing and treatment – Gonorrhoea is tested by collecting a sample of discharge with a swab, and is treated very effectively with a single injection of antibiotics and a single antibiotic tablet. It is recommended that you then attend a follow-up appointment a week or two after treatment to check that you are all clear.

With all STIs, it is important to catch them as soon as possible. If you are sexually active, especially if you have had unprotected sex in the past, it’s a good idea to get tested whether you think you may have caught something or not. You can get free, confidential advice and treatment from your GP or from sexual health clinics in your area. If you do find out that you have an STI, you should contact anyone who you may have passed it on to, or who you may have caught it from as to prevent further spread.

Cardiff University has a GP practice located on Park Place that accepts appointments for sexual health issues. The GP is open Monday-Friday from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.

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