Sexual Health Monday August 29, 2011

The role of STI treatment in HIV prevention

STIs can have many negative effects on your health, including making it more likely that you’ll pick up other infections, like HIV, during sexual intercourse. There is also research that suggests an infected person is more likely to pass HIV on to their partner if they themselves have another STI.

Although it’s still very important to remember that HIV can be spread through sexual contact, regardless of the presence of another STI or not, getting an existing sexually transmitted infection treated will leave you less exposed.

How do STIs increase the spread of HIV?

STIs such as herpes and syphilis, or any other STI that causes ulceration that damages the surface of the genital tract or skin, can increase your risk of an HIV infection. Your skin and the lining of the genital tract usually offers some measure of protection. However, if the surface cells are damaged and breaking, it’s easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream.

Inflammation caused by the most widespread STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, or less commonly trichomonas vaginalis, increase the number of immune cells in genital fluids that are vulnerable to attack by HIV, which elevates the risk of infection.

Many people aren’t aware that a person with an STI who is also infected with HIV can pass it on more easily to an uninfected sexual partner. This is because a person with an STI and HIV is more likely to shed HIV cells in their genital discharge. It is thought that HIV infected men with gonorrhoea are twice as likely have traces of HIV in their semen than those who only have an HIV infection. The higher the concentration of HIV in semen, the higher the risk of infection to a partner.

How does treating an STI prevent HIV?

Although ensuring that you don’t have an STI will never completely protect you from becoming HIV infected or spreading it to others, studies have shown that getting treatment for an STI can reduce the risk of HIV transmission, because it’s said to reduce the number of HIV cells in genital discharge. Getting treatment for an STI can also make it up to five times less likely that you’ll contract HIV from an infected partner.

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