Listen to this article
A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is one that is commonly spread through sexual activity. STIs can be caused by a bacteria, virus or parasite and spreads from person-to-person through blood, semen, vaginal and other body fluids.
Sometimes, these infections can be transmitted non-sexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, blood transfusions or sharing needles .
In India, it is estimated that 6% of the adult population has an STI, which means we see 30-35 million episodes of such cases every year. Despite the fact that a large percentage of sexually active adults are infected, STI testing and awareness is not widespread.
The most common STIs include HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, HPV (human papillomavirus ), hepatitis B and C, and herpes.
STI detection is tricky, because most people are asymptomatic (don’t get symptoms). The only way to know for certain, if you have an STI is to get tested. Someone who is infected and has asymptomatic symptoms can still spread STI to other people during sexual activity.
While STI testing should be a part of every sexually active individual’s annual checkups, women need to be more proactive about getting themselves tested. Here’s why:
The lining of the vagina is thin and delicate, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate, eventually causing an infection. The moist environment of the vagina is ideal for bacteria to live and grow.
Women may or may not have symptoms of certain STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. The infection can even exist without presenting any symptoms at all.
However, if you do experience any of the following STI symptoms, immediately book an appointment with the doctor.
Some STI symptoms such as burning or itching are similar to fungal or bacterial infections. Hence, women may easily mistake an STI for something else like a yeast infection.
During herpes or syphilis, genital ulcers that occur in the vagina may not be visible. Hence, women may easily miss the symptoms.
Late diagnosis and delayed treatments can lead to irreversible complications with the reproductive system. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, when left untreated in the long run can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can eventually lead to problems like lower back pain, painful sex, poor outcome of pregnancy and infertility. Syphilis, if untreated, can affect multiple organs like heart, brain and can be life-threatening. If you have an untreated STI like chlamydia or gonorrhoea, it increases the chances of you easily contracting another STI like HIV.
During pregnancy or childbirth, the mother can pass infections such as genital herpes, syphilis and HIV to their babies. As a result, the baby may be born dead, blind, deaf, underweight or with brain damage.
Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in women, can cause cervical cancer.