Which are the most common STIs?
Sexually transmitted infections (or STIs) are still common in the UK. In 2014, nearly half a million cases were diagnosed in England alone. Here are some of the more common STIs along with their symptoms and how to treat them.
In the UK, Chlamydia is the most common STIs accounting for 47% of diagnoses in 2013.
You can buy 'test at home kits' for chlamydia, or request a free kit if you're between 16-24 years. It's worth noting that they are not always correct and the most accurate test is from your local clinic or doctor, especially if you can pinpoint symptoms.
Chlamydia is a problem because it's so easily spread and the symptoms can be missed. Some people experience no symptoms at all and in the long term, it can cause infertility.
- Female symptoms: Burning on urination, vaginal discharge, lower abdominal pain after sex, bleeding between periods and heavier periods.
- Male symptoms: Pain when urinating, cloudy, white or clear penile discharge, and testicle pain.
Chlamydia can be spread to the sexual organs, rectum, eyes and throat. In both sexes it's treated with antibiotics and an additional test is advised after the course to make sure the infection has cleared.
Genital Warts (HPV)
Genital warts are small bumpy growths on the genitals and anal area - they can resemble tiny cauliflowers. Usually they are painless but may rub, itch or irritate. Condoms don't always work to prevent HPV because they're spread by skin contact rather than fluids.
Men and women develop the same bumpy growths and these warts can be frozen by a specialist nurse or certain creams applied. Genital warts are not cancerous and do not lead to cancer.
According to recent statistics published by Public Health England (PHE), cases of gonorrhoea have by 53% between 2012 and 2015. There was even an 11% increase in gonorrhoea cases between 2014 and 2015 alone. In total, gonorrhoea cases rose to an amount of 41,193 between 2012 and 2015.
These recent statistics are especially worrying because strains of gonorrhoea are becoming resistant to antibiotics and it's the second most common infection the UK. According to the NHS, around 50% of infected women and 10% of infected men have no symptoms.
- Female symptoms: pain during urination, pain in the pelvis and abdomen, vaginal discharge, intermenstrual bleeding.
- Male symptoms: pain during urination, swelling and pain in the testicles, and penile discharge coloured white, yellow or green.
Both sexes may have painful bowel movements with discharge and bleeding. Gonorrhoea can occur in the eyes, throat and rectum too. It's treated with antibiotics - often with two types to ensure the infection is cleared - however the advised treatment in the UK at this time is the injection administered by a medical professional.
Recent statistics posted by Public Health England (PHE) have revealed that syphilis cases have significantly risen by 76% between 2012 and 2015. Between the years of 2014 and 2015 alone there was a 20% rise in cases of syphilis. This STI, which can cause blindness, strokes and even paralysis has seen a total of 5,228 cases in 2015, compared to 3,001 cases in 2012.
There are three stages to a syphilis infection. People can think that when their primary symptoms disappear the problem has gone away, but this is not the case. Treatment is essential.
- Primary syphilis in men and women
Painless round spots called 'chancres' that heal after 2-6 weeks. They can appear up to three months after infection.
- Secondary syphilis
A skin rash, sore throat, ulcers and general fluey feeling, which can disappear after a few weeks. No symptoms may be experienced for years after.
- Tertiary syphilis
The NHS says a third of untreated syphilis cases progress to the tertiary symptoms that are classed as serious. They include numbness, blindness, paralysis or a stroke.
Treatment is usually via an injection of penicillin. Later stages of syphilis need three injections of antibiotics. If you develop a painless rash on your genitals, it's important to get it checked straight away to avoid secondary or even tertiary symptoms.
STIs are common and some are becoming resistant to antibiotic treatment. Going without condoms is a risk because they are the only method of contraception that can prevent most STIs, and significant lowers your risk of catching others.
If you have any symptoms, or you've had unprotected sex, then head to the clinic or your doctor for a test and appropriate treatment (be sure to mention to your doctor's surgery before booking the appointment as some offer a limited supply of tests). Tests are confidential and ignoring the signs will only lead to worsening symptoms.
What can be done to lower the rise in STI diagnoses?
The rise in diagnoses for the STIs listed above (in particular the recent statistics for gonorrhoea and syphilis cases) has raised questions about how to stop cases of these STIs rising even higher in England.
Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at PHE has spoken out to offer advice regarding how we can improve upon recent STI statistics. According to Gwenda Hughes and the PHE;
"We need to do more to raise awareness about STIs and how they can be prevented, especially the effectiveness of using condoms. We recommend that anyone having sex with a new or causal partner uses condoms and tests regularly for HIV and STIs. It is also vital to ensure there is easy access to STI testing and treatment services that meet the needs of local populations."
With regards to the ease of access for STI testing, according to Natika Halil, chief executive of the Family Planning Association (FPA) the government should be held accountable when it comes to the ease of access to sexual health services across the country. She has stated;
"As we continue to hear about sexual health services being moved, restricted or closed, we reiterate our common-sense call on the government to prioritise investment in sexual health services in this country."
It is clear from Natika's statement that far more needs to be done to improve the accessibility and quality of sexual health services nationwide in order to stabilise the rise in diagnoses for STIs.