Sexual Health Monday February 20, 2012

The three basic types of STI and how they can be treated

In understanding which STI treatment is right for you, you must first determine which infection you are dealing with. Realising that you have a sexually transmitted infection can be upsetting and, undoubtedly, isn't the easiest of experiences to deal with, but when you're faced with an overwhelming surge of information on the types of STIs and their respective treatments, it can make coping with the infection all the more daunting.

By having a good grasp of the essentials (the three basic types of STI and appropriate treatments), together with the support you will receive along the way, you'll know all you need to know - enabling you to treat your infection successfully.

What are the three basic types of STI?

Bacterial

This form of STI is contracted as a result of bacteria being passed on by all sexual contact, namely intercourse (vaginal and anal), genital contact and oral sex. Sharing sex toys can also pass on infection. It can infect multiple parts of the body, including the genital region, rectum and mouth. Fortunately, bacterial STIs can be cured by completing a course of antibiotics.

The bacterial STIs you might have heard of include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Others you may not have heard of include bacterial vaginosis and mycoplasma genitalium.

Chlamydia is one of the UK's most common STIs and there were around 200,000 cases confirmed in 2010, a huge majority of which were under 25 – the age up to which the infection is most familiar. The number of those who have it, yet remain undiagnosed is not known, but estimations are assumed to be significant.

Symptoms, when experienced, include:

  • unusual discharge
  • irritation in the genital area
  • lower abdominal/pelvic pain
  • painful sex

For a more comprehensive list, you can refer to our page on Chlamydia.

Viral

This type of STI is caught as a result of viruses passed from person to person during sexual intimacy (contact with the infected area or bodily fluids), can be passed on during childbirth, or by coming into contact with infected blood (sharing needles).

Possible areas affected include the genital region, cervix, anus and urinary tract. It can also affect the eyes and mouth. Though viral infections are not entirely curable, they can be managed successfully - more effectively so the earlier they are detected.

Examples of viral STIs include genital warts, genital herpes and HIV.

Genital warts, which are caused as a result of the human papilloma virus (HPV) are currently the most common viral STI in the UK, and are most prevalent in young men and woman between the ages of 16 and 25.Of the 100 plus different versions of HPV, 40 of these are said to cause warts - visible symptoms which tend not to be painful, but can cause irritation.

Symptoms may be experienced during the first four weeks of infection, but can take months to appear (and for you to recognise). They include, amongst others:

  • genital irritation
  • painful urination
  • unpleasant discharge
  • muscle/joint pain
  • mouth ulcers
  • inflamed glands
  • vaginal bleeding

Parasitic

This type of sexually transmitted infection is caused by parasites spread by sexual contact, which can be found in moist areas of the body (e.g. around the sex organs). These parasites being so small, most people infected with this STI will generally be unaware of their symptoms.

Common examples of this infection include:

  • Trichomonas vaginalis can be spread by vaginal intercourse. Symptoms, mostly experienced by women, include vaginal irritation, unpleasant discharge, painful sex/urination, and lower abdominal pain.
  • Crabs are not only spread by intercourse, but also by contact with towels, items of clothing or bed sheets. Symptoms include lice (live) or lice eggs in body hair, lice bites in the affected area and lice feces (like a dark powder) in your underwear.
  • Scabies is spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual intimacy (intercourse and oral). It can cause irritation to the skin, made worse by scratching which can cause further infection.

Treatments

Confirming the diagnosis of a particular sexually transmitted infection as soon as is possible will enable cases to be treated much more efficiently and your GP can decide which medication is the most suitable for you. This will most likely be antibiotics.

Chlamydia (a common bacterial STI) is most commonly treated with antibiotics such as Azithromycin, which is a one-off treatment, or Doxycycline, which should be taken over a course of seven days. A popular treatment for genital warts (a viral STI) is Warticon, which is a cream and can be effective within four weeks. Viral STIs like genital herpes will also require treatment with antiviral agents such as Valtrex or Famvir, Trichomonas vaginalis (a parasitic STI, which is relatively uncommon) can be treated with antibiotics such as Metronidazole, which can be taken as a single or week-long treatment.

Outlook

Such infections can be spread easily by the unnoticeable nature of its symptoms or a delay in experiencing symptoms – ultimately, by having sex without a condom. This is especially prevalent in the present context, where there has been a considerable rise in the number of reported cases of sexually transmitted infections over the last ten years.

As with all infections, the sooner they are treated the better. Considering that many of those affected are not even aware of the problem, annual STI testing is a good way to ensure infection is detected.

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