Information about STIs
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital, oral or anal contact.
Anyone who has sex can get an STI, you don’t need to have lots of sexual partners. Both men and women can get and pass on STIs.
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK. It is easily passed on during sex. Most people don't experience any symptoms, so they are unaware they're infected.
In women, chlamydia can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a vaginal discharge, pain in the lower abdomen during or after sex, and bleeding during or after sex or between periods.
In men, chlamydia can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles.
It is also possible to have a chlamydia infection in your rectum (bottom), throat or eyes Diagnosing chlamydia is done with a urine test or by taking a swab of the affected area. The infection is easily treated with antibiotics but can lead to serious long-term health problems if left untreated, including infertility.
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial STI easily passed on during sex. About 50% of women and 10% of men don't experience any symptoms and are unaware they're infected.
In women, Gonorrhoea can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a vaginal discharge (often watery, yellow or green), pain in the lower abdomen during or after sex, and bleeding during or after sex or between periods, sometimes causing heavy periods.
In men, Gonorrhoea can cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a white, yellow or green discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles.
It is also possible to have a Gonorrhoea infection in your rectum, throat or eyes.
Gonorrhoea is diagnosed using a urine test or by taking a swab of the affected area. The infection is easily treated with antibiotics, but can lead to serious long-term health problems if left untreated, including infertility.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that in the early stages causes a painless, but highly infectious, sore on your genitals. The sore can last up to six weeks before disappearing.
Secondary symptoms such as a rash and a flu-like illness may then develop. These may disappear within a few weeks, after which you'll have no symptoms.
The late (tertiary) stage of syphilis usually occurs after many years, and can cause serious conditions such as heart problems, paralysis and blindness.
The symptoms of syphilis can be difficult to recognize. A simple blood test can be used to diagnose syphilis. The condition can be treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin injections. When syphilis is treated properly, the later stages can be prevented.
HIV is most commonly passed on through unprotected sex. It can also be transmitted by coming into contact with infected blood – for example, sharing needles to inject drugs or steroids.
The HIV virus attacks and weakens the immune system, making it less able to fight infections and disease. There's no cure for HIV, but there are treatments that allow most people to live a long and otherwise healthy life.
AIDS is the final stage of an HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.
Most people with HIV look and feel healthy and have no symptoms. When you first develop HIV, you may experience a flu-like illness with a fever, sore throat or rash. This is called a seroconversion illness.
A simple blood test is usually used to test for an HIV infection.
Hepatitis B is very infectious (100 times more infectious than HIV) and very easily transmitted through unprotected sex or by sharing needles to inject drugs. Most people who contract hepatitis B do not have symptoms. If symptoms do occur they can appear one to six months after coming into contact with the virus. The infection can persist for many years and silently cause severe liver damage, including cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
In most people a full course of vaccination prevents infection.
The following people should consider having the hepatitis B vaccination:
- Men who have sex with men
- Anyone who has recently injected drugs
- Anyone who has been paid for sex
- Anyone who has a sexual partner with Hepatitis B infection
- Anyone who has been recently sexually assaulted.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver, it often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. This means many people have the infection without realising it.
When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another condition. Symptoms can include:
- flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and a high temperature (fever)
- feeling tired all the time
- loss of appetite
- tummy (abdominal) pain
- feeling and being sick
You can become infected with Hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact, although it is rare for Hepatitis C to be spread through sexual contact some ways it can be spread include:
- sharing unsterilised needles – particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs
- sharing razors or toothbrushes
- from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
However new drug treatments mean it's usually possible to cure the virus.
For more information about STIs click here.