Dear women, here’s why you need to be proactive about getting tested for STIs

Updated on:21 July 2021, 10:49am IST
Sexually transmitted infections or STIs do not just spread from person to person, but also through other means. The repercussions in women can be further damaging. Here’s all that you need to know
non-genital STIs
STI testing is important, if you are sexually active. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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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. 

STI testing
STI testing is important because a person can have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) without knowing it. Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

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:

1. The vagina is more susceptible to infections

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. 

2. Women are less likely to experience STI symptoms

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. 

  • Foul-smelling or unusual vaginal discharge 
  • Greenish-yellow discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding 
  • Bumps or sores in the genital area
  • Pain and burning sensation when passing urine
  • Lower belly pain or pain during vaginal penetration in women
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the  groin
  • Itchy genitals or anus
3. It is easy to confuse STI symptoms for other problems

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.  

4. Reduced visibility of symptoms

During herpes or syphilis, genital ulcers that occur in the vagina may not be visible. Hence, women may easily miss the symptoms.  

vaginal infections
Chlamydia and gonorrhea both make you more susceptible to other STIs, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Image courtesy: Shutterstock
5. Delayed treatment can lead to serious health complications

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.

6. Pregnant women can pass STIs to their babies

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. 

7. HPV causes cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in women, can cause cervical cancer. 

Below is a compact guide to understand STI testing – the who, when, what and how!
  • Who should get tested? All sexually active people should get tested. 
  • When should you get tested? At least once every year. 
  • Where can you get tested? Visit a health clinic or book an STI test at home. 
  • How is the STI testing done? The doctor will collect your blood, urine sample or a vaginal swab for the test. Sample type will depend on the type of test being done.
  • What happens if you test positive? All STIs may not be curable, but they are all treatable. Depending on the infection, your doctor will start you on a suitable treatment. Ask your partner to get tested, if they have not. It is best to resume intimate and sexual contact, once you have completed your course of treatment. 

Dr Megha Zacharia Dr Megha Zacharia

Dr Megha Zacharia, Consultant Pathologist, Proactive for her