What are sexually transmitted diseases?
Sexually transmitted diseases, now more commonly known as sexually transmitted infections, are infections that are spread through sexual contact and unprotected sexual intercourse. Sexually transmitted infections can be passed on through oral, anal and vaginal sex. Some infections, including genital warts, can also be passed through skin to skin contact.
How common are sexually transmitted infections?
Sexually transmitted infections are very common. In recent years, the number of people diagnosed with an STI has increased significantly. The figure has increased year on year since the mid 1990’s and in 2008 a total of 399,738 new cases were diagnosed. Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the UK but there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of genital herpes; between 2007 and 2008 there was a 10 percent increase in the number of cases.
Young people aged between 16 and 24 are the most commonly affected. This demographic accounts for only 12 percent of the population, however more than half of the cases of STIs in the UK are amongst this age group.
Examples of STIs
There are lots of different sexually transmitted infections but some are much more common than others. The most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK include:
● Genital warts
● Genital herpes
Who can get an STI?
Anybody who has intimate sexual contact or unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person can develop a sexually transmitted infection. Some infections can also be passed on through sharing needles and having skin to skin contact with a person with an infection. Sexually transmitted infections are most common amongst young people because they tend to have higher levels of unprotected sex, however, people of all ages can develop infections. Sexually transmitted infections can affect people of all different ages, races and sexual preferences.
Different types of sexually transmitted diseases cause different symptoms to develop and in some cases, there are no obvious symptoms. This is why it is important to go for regular sexual health checks if you are having unprotected sex or sleeping with different partners.
Many symptoms that are associated with sexually transmitted infections are also linked to other health conditions so the development of symptoms may not indicate that you have a sexually transmitted infection, however, it is always a good idea to get checked out.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
● Unusual vaginal discharge, which may be green or yellow in colour
● Pain during or just after sex
● Bleeding between periods
● Unpleasant smelling discharge
● Pain in the lower abdomen
● Discharge from the penis
● Swelling of the foreskin
● Itching or irritation of the urethra
Men and women
● Pain during urination
● Itching or tingling around the genital area
● Blisters, sores or lumps around the genitals
● Spots around the genitals
If you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, do not panic and don’t be embarrassed, just arrange to go and see your GP. In the vast majority of cases, antibiotics can cure infections very quickly and easily. If an infection is left untreated, it may get a lot worse so it is always best to try and have a test as soon as possible and then suitable treatment can be given.
Some infections, such as chlamydia, do not cause symptoms in some people, so it is important to have a sexual health test if you have had intimate sexual contact or sexual intercourse with somebody. It is also advisable to have an STI test if you are planning to become pregnant.
Where can I go for an STI test?
You can go to your GP’s surgery, your local sexual health clinic, your local GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic or a community contraceptive clinic for an STI test.
Where can I have a sexual health test?
There are various different places you can go for an STI test; these include:
● GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic
● Sexual health clinics
● GP surgeries
● Contraception clinics (also known as family planning clinics)
Do I have to pay for the test?
STI tests and all sexual health services are free of charge on the NHS. You can get free contraceptives from sexual health clinics and your GP. If you do go to your GP and you require treatment for any sexually transmitted diseases, you may have to pay the prescription charge (some people are exempt from paying prescription charges).
What does the test involve?
Tests for men and women may involve the following:
● Examination of the genitals, throat, mouth, skin, anus and rectum
● Urine sample
● Blood sample
● Swabs from the urethra
● Swabs from any blisters or sores
Women may also have an examination of the vagina and swabs from the vagina.
When will I get the results?
Sometimes the results will be available straight away and sometimes you will have to wait for your results. Sometimes, this can take several weeks. If you do have to wait for your results, you will be asked to give your permission for a member of staff to call you to give you your results or send you a letter with the results in an unmarked envelope.
What happens if my test result is positive?
If your test result is positive, a member of staff will talk to you about the infection and the treatment options available to you. In the majority of cases, you will be given a course of antibiotics. If you have a more serious, long-term condition, such as HIV, you will be referred to a counsellor and advised about your treatment options.