Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very common. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1 million people acquire STIs every day globally. It also estimates that about 500 million new cases of one of four curable STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis) occur each year worldwide. Along with the need to practice safe sex, there is also a need to understand the long-term effects of STIs on your heath and well-being.
The Indian scenario
A study conducted by the Indian Council for Medical Research in 2002-2003 has shown that 6 percent in the adult Indian population has one or more STIs. This equates to an occurrence of 30-35 million episodes of STI every year in the country. A large proportion of the new STIs occur among the adolescents and young adult group. They may not even be aware that they are infected, and this may affect their future sexual and reproductive health negatively.
How are STIs transmitted and what are the common ones?
STIs are transmitted from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Some STIs can also be transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Some of the common STIs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Trichomonas, Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), Genital Herpes, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), etc.
How will I know if I have STIs?
STIs don’t always cause symptoms or may only cause mild symptoms. Therefore, it is possible to have an infection and not know it. Some of the common symptoms of STIs are: vaginal discharge, discharge from the penis, urethral discharge, burning while passing urine, urethral burning in men, genital ulcers and abdominal pain.
If you’ve had sexual contact with another person and notice any symptoms or signs of an STI, talk to a doctor about getting tested. STI symptoms can come and go over time, but that doesn’t mean the STI is gone. It’s common for STD symptoms to be so mild that they don’t bother you, but you should still see a doctor or nurse if you notice anything that does not feel normal.
What are the consequences of STIs?
The long term effects of STIs can be serious. This can affect both sexual and reproductive health.
In 2020, WHO estimated 374 million new infections with one of four STIs: chlamydia (129 million), gonorrhoea (82 million), syphilis (7.1 million) and trichomoniasis (156 million). More than 490 million people were estimated to be living with genital HSV (herpes) infection in 2016, and an estimated 300 million women have an HPV infection, the primary cause of cervical cancer. An estimated 296 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B globally. Both HPV and hepatitis B infections are preventable with vaccination.
The long term effects of STIs
STIs like herpes, gonorrhoea and syphilis can increase the risk of HIV acquisition.
Mother-to-child transmission of STIs can result in stillbirth, neonatal death, low-birth weight and prematurity, sepsis, pneumonia, neonatal conjunctivitis and congenital deformities. Approximately 1 million pregnant women were estimated to have active syphilis in 2016, resulting in over 350 000 adverse birth outcomes, of which 200 000 occurred as stillbirth or neonatal death.
HPV infection causes cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with an estimated 570,000 new cases in 2018 and over 311 000 cervical cancer deaths each year.
Hepatitis B resulted in an estimated 820 000 deaths in 2019, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer).
STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia are major causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility in women.
Diagnosis of STIs
Diagnostic tests are available for STIs. If you have symptoms or signs of an STI see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and further treatment.
Prevention and treatment
They offer one of the most effective methods of protection against STIs, including HIV, when used correctly and consistently. Condoms also protect against unintended pregnancy. However, condoms do not offer protection for STIs that cause extra-genital ulcers (i.e., syphilis or genital herpes). When possible, condoms should be used in all vaginal and anal sex.
Highly effective and safe vaccines are available for 2 viral STIs: hepatitis B and HPV. These vaccines have represented major advances in STI prevention.
Currently there are several effective treatments for STIs, for example, antibiotics and antivirals. It is important that you are aware of the symptoms and signs of STIs and seek diagnosis and treatment early.