Sexually transmitted infections, contraception and the C-card scheme.

Types of sexually transmitted infections

Anyone who has had sex without using a condom may be at risk of contracting an STI, and some types of STI can even be picked up if you've used a condom, such as Pubic Lice (Crabs) and Genital Warts.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in young men and women, and you don't need to have had lots of sexual partners to be at risk of having it.

More about chlamydia
Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is usually passed on through unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral) and can be passed on to an unborn child if the mother is infected. In some rare cases, it can be caught through injecting drugs.

Symptoms and causes

The symptoms can be mild and you may not even realise you have it which means it could easily be passed on without your knowledge.

Syphilis can develop in 3 stages:

  • 1st stage – A single painless sore or multiple sores on or around the vagina or penis but sometimes in the mouth or anus
  • 2nd stage – A skin rash and flu-like symptoms, such as fever and achiness could develop
  • 3rd stage – The dangerous stage, could cause serious damage to the body

If left untreated, syphilis can cause major heart problems, paralysis or dementia.

How to get tested

If you think you may have syphilis or you have had sexual contact with someone who thinks they may have it, contact your doctor or your local GUM clinic.

Primary and secondary syphilis can be successfully treated with a single dose of penicillin (which is given as an injection into your buttock). If you are allergic to penicillin, you will be offered another form of antibiotic.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK. It can be caught through unprotected sexual intercourse, but there is a higher risk for those with more than one partner or those who change partners often. Young people are most commonly infected, with current rates highest in males aged 20-24 years and females aged 16-19 years.

Symptoms and causes

Early signs of Gonorrhoea can be mild for both males and females so you may not even know you have it. However, young men do show signs of infection more often than young women.

The symptoms include a thin white/yellow discharge from the penis and a severe burning when passing urine. For young women, the signs can include a painful and burning sensation when passing urine and discharge from the vagina that is yellow or bloody.

If left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause young women to develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to chronic abdominal pain and infertility.

How to get tested

If you think you may have gonorrhoea or you have had sexual contact with someone who thinks they may have it, contact your doctor or your local GUM clinic.

A swab taken from the penis or cervix (neck of the womb) can usually diagnose Gonorrhoea. If symptoms are present, they can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.

Genital warts

Genital warts can easily be passed on from person to person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral (kissing, sucking or licking) sex. However, they can also be spread through close genital contact which is skin-to-skin contact. Both males and females can have the virus and pass it on.

The highest rate of genital warts occurs in males aged 25-34 years, and for females the age range is 20-24 years.

Symptoms and causes

Genital warts are caused by an infection of the skin around the genital or anus area with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

They are small fleshy bumps or skin changes that develop around the genital or anal area. However, they can take a year or longer to develop after a person becomes infected with the wart virus.

The warts may not always be visible, especially if they develop inside the vagina or anus, which means they cannot be tested for.

How to get tested

Genital warts that are present can easily be treated with special creams or paint, but can also be frozen or removed under local anaesthetic.

Contact your doctor, practice nurse or local GUM clinic if you would like further advice on genital warts or would like to get tested.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a viral infection triggered off by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) and is mostly common among males and females over the age of 20. There are two types of infections, HSV 1 and HSV2.

HSV1 usually causes cold sores on the lips or around the mouth but can also cause blisters in the genital area like HSV2.

The infection can easily be passed on from person to person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral (kissing, sucking or licking) sex. However, they can also be spread through close genital contact which is skin-to-skin contact. The risk of transmission is greater just before, during or after the outbreak of blisters or sores.

Symptoms and causes

Genital herpes usually causes small painful blisters to develop on or around the genitals area. Other symptoms can include:

  • Itching and irritation
  • Flu-like symptoms (headache, backache or a temperature)
  • A burning sensation when passing urine

Like facial cold sores, the initial outbreak (primary infection) may be followed by a period of inactivity before it becomes active again and causing a further outbreak (a recurrent infection). Any future outbreaks will be less severe and shorter in duration.

However, many people who have the virus may not show any symptom at all which makes it difficult to diagnose but the virus can still be passed on.

How to get tested

There is currently no cure for this virus but an anti-viral drug called Aciclovir is available to help reduce the severity of the primary and any recurrent outbreaks. It is most effective if it is taken as soon as possible after the onset of the symptoms.

Contact your doctor, practice nurse or local GUM clinic if you would like further advice on genital herpes or would like to get tested.

HIV/AIDS

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which harms the body's immune system making it difficult to fight off infections. HIV can be passed from person-to-person through blood, semen and vaginal fluids.

More about HIV/AIDS
Pubic lice

Pubic lice are small, crab-like insects which live in the pubic hair but can also be found in underarm and leg hair, hair on the chest, abdomen and back, facial hair such as beards and moustaches.

Getting public lice is not an indication of poor health hygiene. They can easily be passed on from person-to-person through sharing of bedding, clothing, and towels; and not just through sexual or body contact. They spread from hair to hair and are not able to jump or fly.

Symptoms and causes

Once you come into contact with public lice, it can take several weeks before you see any signs or symptoms, or you may not even see any at all as they are tiny insects that are not always visible in the light. Some of the symptoms that may be experienced are:

  • Itching in the affected areas
  • Black powdery droppings from the lice in your underwear
  • Brown eggs on pubic or other body hair
  • Irritation and inflammation in the affected area, sometimes caused by scratching
  • Sky-blue spots (which disappear within a few days) or very tiny specks of blood on the skin

How to get tested

You can get tested at your local GUM clinic and the treatment is simple and something that can be done at home using a special lotion, cream or shampoo.

Alternatively, your doctor, practice nurse or the pharmacist will be able to advise you on the best treatment for you and explain how to use it.

It is important anyone you have had close body contact with, including your partner(s) and household members also get tested at the same time. If left untreated, the pubic lice can spread to eyelashes and eyebrows but this is very rare occurrence.