What are sexually transmitted infections? (STIs)

STI stands for “sexually transmitted infections”. They are also called STDs or “sexually transmitted diseases”. You’ll hear both terms but we use the term STIs because that’s what Health Canada has started to do.

Types of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Bacterial : Bacterial STIs are caused by bacteria passed from person-to-person during sexual activity. There are three infections in this category: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis

Viral: Viral STIs are caused by viruses passed from person-to-person during sexual activity. In general viral infections involve many different parts of the body at the same time. There are four infections in this category: Genital Herpes, HIV, Hepatitis B and HPV.

Parasitic: These STIs are caused by parasites passed from person-to-person during sexual activity. There are 3 in this category: Trichomoniasis, Pubic Lice and Scabies.

Fungal : While not technically STIs, a yeast infection can be passed through sexual contact in rare circumstances.

How do you get an STI?

STIs always come from another person. They live in semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and pre-come, and also sometimes on the skin. They need certain conditions – warm, dark, moist areas of the body – to survive and can’t live away from the human body.

STIs cannot be caught through casual social contact such as shaking hands, sharing eating utensils or using public washrooms. People get STIs from having unprotected sexual contact with other people such as sex without a condom.

They can also come from injection drug use, and contact with open sores. It is important to know that sexual contact includes unprotected oral sex (mouth-on-penis or vagina) and anal sex (penis-in-anus). People can catch some infections from kissing or touching an infected area or by sharing a sex toy with an infected partner.

How do I know if I have an STI?

The most common symptom is no symptom at all! Every STI can exist in the body without showing any symptoms. That’s why the only way to know for sure if you have something and what it might be is to get tested. If you have an STI, your body may begin developing signs or symptoms of the infection, or it may not.

Some symptoms seem to go away on their own but they are not really gone. They remain in your body and can do more damage if they are not treated. Many STIs are completely curable with medicated lotions or antibiotics. Different STIs produce different possible symptoms (check out the links to information about each STI for details). If you are concerned about possibly having an STI here are some common warning signs to watch for:

  • A discharge of fluid from your penis or vagina that is different from what you normally have, i.e. a different colour or funny smell;
  • Burning pain when you pee;
  • Itching and/or burning in and around the genital area;
  • Sores or warts on or around the genitals;
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or and pain in the testicles.
  • The most common symptom is no symptoms at all!

If you have had unprotected sex, or you think there’s a risk you may have been infected, get tested. If it’s possible it’s a good idea to get tested before having sex with a new partner, and to ask them to get tested too. Making testing a regular part of caring for yourself.

It is important to know that while some people get symptoms from an STI, others don’t. Many people who have STIs do not develop any symptoms at all but they can still pass along the infection to their partner.

What is involved in STI testing?

There is not one test that will screen for all STIs. Some STIs are hard to test for if you do not have any symptoms. Most STIs can be detected through blood work, urine tests, saliva tests or by visual examination. Other STIs can only be detected by taking a sample of body fluid from the penis, vagina, rectum or an open sore around your genitals. When you go for testing, it is important to talk with the doctor or nurse about which STIs you are at risk for to determine which tests you should get. Doctors will not routinely give you STI tests unless you ask; it is not part of a regular check up even when you get a pap smear.

How to prevent an STI?

Here are some tips to help you avoid STIs. Consider which will work for you:

  • always use barriers like condoms or dental dams
  • choose safer sexual activities like kissing, touching and massaging
  • avoid sex altogether
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience.
  • get tested regularly
  • ask your partner if they’ve been tested or to come get tested with you
  • know how to use condoms effectively
  • talk to your partner about safer sex (protection, testing, STI history)
  • avoid sharing needles
  • avoid getting unprofessional tattoos or piercings

Where can I get an STI test?

Calgary Sexual Health Centre cannot do STI testing. You can request an STI test from your family doctor, a family planning or sexual health clinic, an STI clinic or at a walk-in clinic. Our resource tab lists the locations in Calgary.

How do I tell my partner(s)?

If you test positive for any STI, it is really important that you let any and all of your sexual partners know. Some STIs, like chlamydia, rarely show symptoms so your partner may have it and not know to seek help. Many STIs are easily cured but can do long-term damage if left untreated.

It is a drag to have to tell someone you care about that you may have given them an STI but it is a lot worse if they find out you knew and never said anything.

  • Be honest with your partner.
  • Be upfront about what the testing and treatment involves.
  • Be supportive (you might even want to go with your partner to get tested when they get tested)

How can I prevent a STI?

The best way to prevent getting STIs is to abstain or choose not to have sex.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about having sex?
  • What are my beliefs about sex?
  • Is this person the right partner for me
  • How will this change our relationship?

If you have had sex before it doesn’t mean you have to continue having sex. You can decide that abstinence is for you at any time in your life.

If you choose to be intimate with a partner but still want to reduce your risks of getting STIs, you can also participate in risk free or low risk activities such as kissing, hugging, body massage and masturbation.

Once again, here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Where do I like to be touched and what areas are off limits?
  • Am I comfortable taking my clothes off? Some of them or all of them?
  • How do I feel about oral sex (using your mouth on your partner’s genitals or visa versa)
  • What will I do if my partner wants me to do something I don’t want to do?

It is your right to say “no” and your right to say “yes” to any sexual activity. It can be pretty tough to make these decisions in the heat of the moment so think about what you are comfortable with ahead of time and even practise what you will say to your partner. Even better, have a conversation with your partner about it. If the idea of talking about STIs and your sexual boundaries is WAY too much, then maybe you’re not ready for sex.

Also, avoid getting involved sexually if you are drunk or on drugs – your head may be ‘fuzzy’ and you might do things you normally wouldn’t do. You don’t want to wake up the next day with a hangover and some nasty STIs.

Another way to reduce the risks of STIs is to use condoms. Condoms are really the best defence against STIs and unplanned pregnancy. If you use condoms properly and every time you have sex, you will minimize your risks of getting most STIs. That being said, condoms cannot provide complete protection because some STIs may can be transmitted from areas of the genitals that are not covered by condoms.

Tip: Some people delay getting sexually involved until both people have been tested and know they are free from STIs, and have made the commitment to be with only each other (monogamous). If your partner won’t practise safer sex, then you have to say “no” and mean it. You are worth it.

If a person with herpes gives someone oral sex, can the person get herpes on their genitals?

The virus that causes oral herpes is herpes simplex 1. Herpes simplex 2 causes genital herpes. It is possible for someone with oral herpes (Simplex1) to pass that strain on to the genitals of another person during oral sex. This means that if that person contracts the virus it is a herpes simplex 1 infection on the genitals. This type of transmission is rare, but is possible. Usually the outbreaks of sores are milder then with herpes simplex 2 as the virus is not in its own domain.






Why does it burn sometimes when you urinate?

There can be many reasons for this, some serious and some not so serious; however it is recommended to see a doctor immediately if burning persists. One cause of burning when you pee could be urinary tract or bladder infections (UTI). UTI’s are caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and are usually treated with antibiotics. Another possibility is a yeast infection, which is usually transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse with a partner who has a yeast infection, although antibiotics and lubricants with potentially irritating chemicals in them, like the spermicide nonoxynol 9, can also potentially cause them. Finally, you may feel burning during urination if you have had unprotected sex with a person who has a sexually transmitted infection, or STI. An important thing to remember is that the most common symptom of an STI is still no symptom at all, and there are many reasons a person can feel a burning sensation when they urinate. Being on the safe side and going for a doctor’s visit is usually best.






Can you get any STI’s on your hand?

Scabies, which is not solely an STI can infect the skin anywhere on the body including the hand and is spread through any skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 types of HPV that can affect your skin. While only certain strains, the sexually transmitted ones, cause genital warts, others cause warts on the hands and feet. These warts can rarely cross over but it is unlikely as the type of wart is not suited for growth in that area.






Can you have more than 1 STI at the same time?

Yes it is possible to contract any STI you come into contact with even if you have one already. You may also contract many at one time. People with compromised immune systems like those with HIV can contract infections easier including sexually transmitted ones.






Are there any ways to see if you or your partner has an STI without going to the doctor?

No. Unfortunately not. A commonality amongst all STI’s is that they can be asymptomatic (no obvious symptoms).






What kind of infections can be spread by kissing?

It is usually quite hard to impossible to get most STI’s from kissing. Saliva is not a fluid that can transmit STI’s. The five fluids that can transmit STI’s are blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and pre-cum. You can however catch other infections like colds, flu’s and herpes I and II (cold sores). Skin to Skin contact carries different risks than the infections or STI’s you can get from fluid exchange.






Do your parents have to know if you are getting tested for STI’s? Do you have to have someone over 18 with you?

No, your parents don’t have to know and you do not need a guardian or adult to go with you for testing. People who go to the STI clinic in the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre don’t even have to give a real name or their Alberta health care. If someone was going to their family doctor, that doctor is obligated to keep your information confidential.






Is it easier to catch an STI if you shave your pubic hair?

It is possible, if a person was irritated or had any open cuts it could increase the risk of fluid exchange and increase the likelihood of STI transmission.






Calgary Sexual Health Centre does not do STI testing.

Here is a list of places you can go for free and confidential STI testing. If you are a teenager, none of these places will tell your parents. You don’t need your Alberta Health Care Card and you can even use a fake name (but make sure you remember what name you are using):

Alberta Health Services
The STI Clinic

Calgary Phone: 403-955-6700

TOLL free, 24 hour STI/AIDS Info Line: 1-800-772-2437

Location: Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, 5th Floor, 1214 – 4th Street SW

Hours: Monday through Wednesday – 9:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Thursday – 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed on statutory holidays and holiday weekends.

 

Alberta Health Services
Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinics

Downtown Clinic
Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre – 5th Floor

1213 – 4th Street S.W.

Phone: (403) 955-6500

Mon to Thurs: 1 – 5:15 p.m.
Fri & Sat: 12 noon – 3:30 p.m.

 

South

31 Sunpark Plaza SE

Phone: (403)943-9510

Mon: 1:00pm-5:15pm
Tues: 4:00pm-7:00pm
Fri: 12:00pm-3:30pm

 

Sunridge

406, 2675- 36th St NE

Phone: (403)944-7666

Mon-Thurs 1:00-5:15pm
Fri-Sat 12:00pm-3:30pm

 

East

4715- 8 Ave SE

Tue and Thurs: 12:00-4:30pm

 

Okotoks Health and Wellnes Centre Teen/Young Adult Clinic

Drop in Clinic

11 Cimarron Common, Okotoks

403-995-2670

Thurs 12-6pm

(Please note, birth control supplies can only be picked up during clinic hours).

 

Teen/Young Adult Clinic

Airdrie Community Health Centre

604 Main Street South, Airdrie

403-801-9229

Drop in: Thurs 12pm-6pm

 

High River Community Clinic

103, 303 9 Ave SW, High River

Phone: 403-652-1721

Drop in: Tues 3-7pm

 

Calgary Health Region Physician Directory

A list of physicians in the Calgary Health Region that allows you to search by specialty, location, languages spoken, privileges, etc.

College of Physicians and Surgeons

Find a Physician: CPSA Medical Directory

Toll Free Phone: 1-800-561-3899

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections can be passed from person to person through unprotected sexual activities including vaginal intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. “Unprotected sex” means sex without a condom. Don’t panic if you think you have a bacterial infection – GET TESTED! These STIs are easily cured with medication but they can cause more serious problems if you don’t take care of them.

Read more about:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI in Canada. Chlamydia bacteria can infect the cervix, rectum or the urethra.

How do you get it

  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected
  • By having oral sex without a condom or dental dam with someone who is infected.
  • By touching your hand with infected fluid to your eye.
  • From mother to child during birth – if a mother has chlamydia it can infect the baby as it passes through the birth canal and cause serious eye infections. This can be prevented with treatment

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex altogether.
  • Engage in safe sexual practices like kissing, hugging, touching and massage.
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience.
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get an STI).
  • Think about your partner’ sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners and/or does not practice safer sex then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.

Symptoms

  • Many people, do not develop any symptoms at all. If you do get symptoms, they usually appear between 2 to 6 weeks after contracting the infection.
  • An unusual discharge from the vagina (unusual can mean a different colour, amount or smell).
  • A milky white discharge from the penis
  • Pain and/or swelling of the testicles.
  • Burning or itching at the opening of the penis
  • Burning when you pee.
  • Bleeding or pain during or after sex.
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Fever and chills (sometimes).
  • Infections from oral sex generally have few symptoms.

Testing

  • A doctor or nurse can take a swab of the infected area (cervix, urethra or rectum) or you can take a simple urine test
  • Many people assume that chlamydia testing is included in their regular pap test but this is not so. You need to ask for a chlamydia test

Treatment

  • Antibiotics easily cure it.
  • Follow your healthcare professional’s instructions and make sure to complete the entire round of drugs even if your symptoms disappear earlier

If Left Untreated

  • Can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility and problems during pregnancy
  • It can cause prostrate swelling and infections in the epididymis.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a bacterium that grows in warm moist areas of your body including the urethra, cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. It can also grow in your mouth, throat, eyes and anus.

How do you get it

  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected.
  • By having oral sex without a condom or dental dam with someone who is infected.
  • By touching your hand with infected fluid to your eye.
  • From mother to child during birth – if a mother has gonorrhea it can infect the baby as it passes through the birth canal and cause serious eye infections. This can be prevented with treatment

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex altogether.
  • Engage in safer sexual practices like kissing, hugging, touching and massage.
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience.
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get an STI).
  • Think about your partner’ sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners and/or does not practice safer sex then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.

Symptoms

  • Most people do not get any symptoms and gonorrhea can be mistaken for a bladder infection. That is why is it important to let your sexual partners know if you test positive for it.
  • A thick discharge of pus from the vagina (yellowish-white in color).
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods.
  • Vaginal pain.
  • A thick discharge of pus from the penis.
  • Frequent need to pee and burning when you do pee.
  • Painful and swollen testicles.
  • Rectal pain, itching or bleeding.
  • Burning when you pee.
  • Sore throat.
  • A discharge from the anus.

Testing

  • A doctor or nurse will take a swab of the infected area (cervix, urethra, rectum or throat) or you can take a simple urine test.
  • Do not assume that this test is included in your regular pap test – ask for a gonorrhea test

Treatment

  • Cured with oral antibiotics
  • Follow your healthcare professional’s instructions and make sure to complete the entire round of drugs even if your symptoms disappear earlier

If Left Untreated

  • It can infect your joints and lead to heart problems down the road
  • It can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility and problems during pregnancy
  • It can cause prostate swelling and infections in the epididymis which can lead to infertility

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that starts out as open sores around the penis or vulva or in the vagina

How do you get it

  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected.
  • By having oral sex without a condom or dental dam with someone who is infected.
  • Direct contact with syphilis sore.
  • From mother to fetus – syphilis can cross the placenta and infect the fetus in the uterus

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex altogether.
  • Engage in safer sexual practices like kissing, hugging, touching and massage (especially with your clothing on because you don’t want to touch any sores around the genital areas).
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience.
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get an STI).
  • Think about your partner’ sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners and/or does not practise safer sex then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.
  • Note: Condoms protect some parts of the body but may not cover sores at the base of the penis, on the outside of the vulva or on the rectum.

Symptoms

  • It can be hard to tell if you have syphilis because it mimics or acts like many other illnesses.
  • If syphilis is not treated, it can progress through three stages.
  • It is most contagious during the first two stages and does the most harm in the last stage.
  • Once again, some people do not get any symptoms and others get some or all that are listed below. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it has gone away just because your symptoms clear up.
  • If you don’t get treated, it will stay in your body and move to the next stage. You can also infect another person at any time if you are infected.
  • Small round sores appear on or around the infected area (penis, vagina, vulva, rectum or throat).
  • These sores can range in size from a pinpoint to the size of a quarter.
  • They usually appear 9 to 90 days after contact and this is when you are most likely to infect another person.
  • They will heal up on their own in 3-8 weeks but it does not mean the infection is actually gone.
  • If you have a sore, even one, then you need to check it out with a healthcare professional immediately.

Testing

  • If you suspect you have syphilis, you need to get tested regardless of what stage you are in
  • A doctor or nurse will examine the sores and take a swab for testing
  • You may also get a blood test
  • Do not assume that this test is included in your regular pap test – ask for a syphilis test

Treatment

  • Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotics in its early stage
  • It can be treated at any stage but the antibiotics will not repair damages that are already done to your body.

If Left Untreated

  • Syphilis can lead to serious problems and life-threatening complications
  • Syphilis can lead to heart failure, brain damage and even death
  • If it is passed to a fetus during pregnancy it can lead to congenital syphilis which is serious and can damage a baby’s bones, eyes, skin, teeth and liver

Viral Infections

Viral infections are the most serious of all the STIs because viruses can be treated but not cured. Some viruses like herpes stay in your body for a long time – they go away and come back over and over again. Just because you don’t have any symptoms does not mean you are not infected and won’t pass the virus along to your partner. Viruses can be passed through unprotected intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. You can also get some viral infections, like HIV, by sharing needles.

Genital Herpes

There are two types of Herpes that are transmitted sexually – HSV 1 and HSV 2.

  • HSV stands for Herpes Simplex Virus.
  • Herpes can cause cold sores, blisters which people can get around their mouths or on their genitals. HSV 1 is often thought of as “oral” and HSV 2 as “genital”, but either virus can transmit to either part of the body.
  • People can also get sores on their nose, other parts of their face, and on their fingers
  • Many people have HSV because it can be transmitted through many non-sexual activities such as sharing a glass, getting a kiss from someone as a baby, and sharing lip gloss. If people have cold sores, it does not mean they are having sex.

How do you get it

  • Have unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected.
  • Have oral sex without a condom or dental dam with someone who has cold sores or genital sores.
  • Have direct contact with sores or blisters (kissing or skin-to-skin contact).
  • Were delivered vaginally when your mother had sores.
  • Share drinks or lip gloss with someone who has or gets cold sores.
  • Have a family member who gets sores.
  • Genital herpes is most contagious when a person has an outbreak of sores or symptoms. Although it is less likely, someone can pass the virus on to their partner during the dormant stage when there are no sores or symptoms.
  • You CANNOT get Herpes from toilet seats, swimming pools, hot tubs or bathtubs.

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex, especially when a person has an outbreak of sores.
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get an STI).
  • Think about your partner’ sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners and/or does not practise safer sex then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex and abstain from oral sex if a person has recently had an outbreak of sores.
  • Note: Condoms protect some parts of the body but may not cover sores around the penis, on the outside of the vulva or on the rectum

Symptoms

  • Once you get herpes, the virus will live in your body for life.
  • How often and how many outbreaks a person has depends on many factors.
  • Some people get outbreaks when they get sick or feel stressed and others only get one or two outbreaks ever.
  • Many people will get one or two outbreaks of Herpes blisters in a year, and some people carry the virus and never have a sore (these people are highly unlikely to pass it on to a partner).
  • The first outbreak is often the worst.
  • Sores can be painful but there are many treatments available to make them less severe.
  • Talk to a doctor or pharmacist for suggestions.
  • Generally the outbreaks get less and less severe as time goes on.
  • Many people do not get any symptoms or only experience mild symptoms. That is why it is important to let your sexual partners know if you test positive for it.
  • Symptoms can include:
  • Tingling or a burning feeling around the infected area (signals that an active outbreak is coming).
  • Itchy skin around the genitals.
  • Small watery blisters or sores in or around the genitals, bum, thighs or mouth. The blisters usually burst and leave painful sores that dry up and fall off.
  • Pain when you pee.
  • Tender lumps on the groin (especially at the first outbreak).
  • Fever or headaches (at the first outbreak).

Testing

  • If you suspect you have herpes, you need to get tested.
  • A doctor or nurse will look at the blisters or sores and scrape off a bit of tissue to send for testing.

Treatment

  • There is no cure for herpes
  • You can treat the outbreaks with anti-viral medication that will reduce the symptoms and frequency of the outbreaks.
  • If you have a genital outbreak, wear loose clothing and keep the area clean and dry.
  • Try using Epson salts in your bath (you can get them at most grocery stores) and make sure you wash your hands with soap every time you touch the infected area.
  • You are more likely to break out if you are overtired, sick or stressed out so make sure you take care of yourself.
  • Many people take Lysine supplements to help boost their immune systems.

Human Papillomavirus or HPV or Genital Warts

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, commonly known as “warts”.

  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV (for example, warts on your hands or feet) and most people get warts at some time in their lives.
  • The human papillomavirus or HPV is one of the most common family of viruses in the world today.
  • HPV is also the world’s most common sexually transmitted infection and is transmitted by skin-to-skin (including sexual) contact.
  • Of those 100 different types of HPV, over 30 of them are sexually transmitted. These can cause warts to appear or they may cause cancer, most commonly cervical and throat cancers. They can show up on the vulva, inside the vagina, on the penis, scrotum and urethra, or on the anus or thighs.
  • Some types of HPV can cause pre-cancerous lesions and eventually cancer of the throat, cervix, penis, vagina or vulva. They most commonly lead to cervical cancer.
  • HPV is one of the most common causes of cervical cancer. Of the 30 different genital HPV viruses, only 13 types are considered a risk for cancer.
  • HPV is not related to HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus, which can cause AIDS).

How do you get it

  • From skin-to-skin contact (prolonged contact between your own genitals those of a person who carries the virus).
  • Warts do not need to be present for a person to pass on HPV to their partner.
  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected.
  • Kissing or touching a partner’s genitals with your mouth.
  • Genital warts are very contagious and common.
  • The virus usually (90% of the time) clears from the body within a year or two.

How do you prevent it

  • HPV is hard to avoid for anyone who has been sexually active. Annual pap tests help sexually active women screen for pre-cancerous cell changes caused by HPV. This is the most important way women can avoid cervical cancer caused by HPV.
  • Abstain from sexual contact (though you can still kiss and hug with your clothing on).
  • Apparently it’s so common that even having had one partner most people will carry it, though many show no symptoms.
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams for oral sex.
  • Note: Condoms protect some parts of the body but HPV can be transmitted from areas of the body that are not covered such as the scrotum, vulva or thighs.

Symptoms

  • How HPV affects your body seems to vary – some people show no signs of the infection and simply carry the virus while others develop visible warts.
  • Genital warts may last for a long time and eventually go away but the HPV virus can remain dormant in your body and return later on.
  • If you do get warts they usually show up within three months of contact with the virus but sometimes it can take up to a year or longer to show signs.
  • Pinkish, flat and slightly raised bumps in the vagina or on the cervix.
  • Pink to greyish-brown coloured warts that grow in cauliflower-like clusters on the penis, vulva, anus, thighs.
  • Tingling or a burning sensation.
  • Minor bleeding after anal sex or a bowel movement.
  • Difficulty peeing
  • Cervical dysplasia (this means abnormal cell growth on a cervix).

Testing

  • The test for HPV is not part of routine testing.
  • If genital warts are visible a doctor can freeze these away
  • One of the best ways to screen for HPV is to get regular pap smears.
  • The doctor will take a swab of your cervix and send these cells to a laboratory for testing.

Treatment

  • You cannot cure HPV but you can treat it.
  • Many cases clear from the body within a year or two.
  • Do not use over-the-counter or drugstore treatments that you can buy to get rid of finger or foot warts. These may work on your hands and feet but your genitals are much more sensitive and you don’t want to cause scarring.
  • Depending on where they are located, your doctor may recommend other methods to get rid of genital warts including: acids or creams to apply to the warts, or freezing directly on the warts

If Left Untreated

  • Can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility and problems during pregnancy
  • It can cause prostrate swelling and infections in the epididymis.

A new vaccine to protect against four common types of HPV was approved by the Government of Canada in July of 2006. In Alberta, girls in grades 5 and 9 are offered the vaccine at school and can get it free if their parents’ consent; otherwise you need a prescription for three doses of the vaccine from a doctor and the cost is about $475 for all three. It is important to note that the HPV vaccination does not stop you from getting other STIs so it is still important to practice safer sex even if you have been vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver. It is spread through infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids.

Some people with hepatitis B are known as “carriers”; it means they don’t feel sick but they can pass it on to others. Other people feel very sick and can develop liver disease.

How do you get it

  • By coming into contact with infected blood (even infected blood on razors or toothbrushes).
  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with someone who is already infected.
  • Through oral sex with an infected partner.
  • From mother to child during child birth.
  • From sharing needles used for injecting drugs

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get an STI).
  • Think about your partner’s sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners, does not practise safer sex and/or uses needles to inject then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it
  • Use dental dams for oral sex.
  • Don’t share personal items such as razors and toothbrushes with an infected person.
  • Don’t share needles used to inject drugs.
  • Get vaccinated.

Symptoms

  • Hepatitis B can show up as a short-term (“acute”) infection or a long-term (“chronic”) infection.
  • An acute infection lasts up to six months and the infection is considered “chronic” if it lasts more than six months.
  • Many people show no symptoms and their bodies develop immunities to the virus that help them fight it off.
  • During the acute stage, you can transmit hepatitis B to another person.
  • For some people that will be it – they will never develop chronic hepatitis and they won’t even be a carrier, which means they won’t pass it along.
  • Even if your symptoms clear up you may still be infected so it is wise to get tested by your doctor to make sure you are not carrying the virus.
  • Other people’s bodies won’t fight off the virus and they will develop chronic hepatitis, which can go on to damage the liver. Chronic hepatitis carriers will have the virus all their lives and can pass it to others at any point.
  • Symptoms when a person is first infected they symptoms can include:
  • Mild flu-like symptoms such as feeling tired, aching joints, loss of appetite, nausea and stomach pain.
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), though this is rare.
  • Symptoms when a person has chronic Hepatitis B can include:
  • Liver scarring.
  • Liver diseases.
  • Liver cancer.

Testing

  • If you suspect you have been exposed to hepatitis B through infected blood or other bodily fluids, you need to take a blood test to find out.

Treatment

  • Most Hepatitis B infections clear up themselves (the acute ones).
  • For people who develop chronic hepatitis B, there is no cure but there are medications you can take to slow down its spread and the development of liver disease.
  • Check with your doctor about what medications are available

There is a vaccine against hepatitis B. In Alberta it is offered free to students in Grade 5 and other people who are deemed “high risk – check with your doctor to find out if you qualify for free immunization or not. Everyone else can get it (it’s a series of three shots) but depending on health coverage, may have to pay for it.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus – a virus that attacks the immune system. The immune system is important because it fights off infections.

People who are HIV-positive are not necessarily sick and may live for many years without ever developing AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

A person is said to have AIDS if his or her immune system becomes very weakened by the HIV virus, leaving this person vulnerable to a range of infections and diseases, including cancer and pneumonia.

How do you get it

  • By having someone else’s infected blood, semen (even pre-cum), vaginal fluid or breast milk enter your urethra, vagina, anus or throat, or through a cut or puncture in the skin.
  • By having unprotected vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner.
  • Through unprotected oral sex with an infected partner (though the risk of this is very low).
  • From mother to child during childbirth or afterwards through breast milk.
  • From sharing needles used for injecting drugs; (heroin, steroids, even insulin).
  • From tattoos and piercing performed unprofessionally with unsterilized instruments.

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Talk with your partner(s) about your testing history
  • Statistically the more partners someone has, the higher the chances of getting an STI, however you can get an STI even from one experience
  • Limit how many sexual partners you have (less partners means you are less likely to get HIV).
  • Think about your partner’s sexual history (if they have had a lot of partners, does not practise safer sex and/or uses needles to inject then it puts you at a higher risk).
  • Use male or female condoms for vaginal and anal sex (don’t use condoms with nonoxynol-9 – a spermicide – as it may irritate the skin and make it easier to transmit HIV).
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.
  • Do not share needles used to inject drugs and never touch or pick up a needle if you find one.
  • Use condoms if using sex toys such as dildos with a partner.
  • Use a condom on a sex toy if you will be sharing it. Wash sex toys between individual uses.
  • Avoid any sexual practices that may cause bleeding.
  • Make sure that tattoo and piercing equipment is sterilized (ask about sterilization and only proceed if you are fully satisfied that it is safe).

Symptoms

  • It can take years before any symptoms appear so people who are infected with HIV may not know they are spreading the virus.
  • Symptoms are often mild in the early stages but later on they can include:
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.
  • Persistent diarrhea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sores in the mouth.
  • Purplish lesions in the mouth or on the skin.
  • Swollen glands and a sore throat.
  • Recurring and chronic yeast infections.
  • Fever and/or night sweats.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Because HIV attacks the immune system, it makes the body more susceptible to infections that a healthy person can normally fight off.
  • If you suspect you have come in contact with HIV, you absolutely need to get tested. A doctor or nurse will give you a blood test to find out whether your body has developed antibodies to the virus. It usually takes between six weeks and three months for the body to develop antibodies so even if the first test is negative, you should get tested again after three months and again after six months just to be sure

Testing

  • If you suspect you have come in contact with HIV, you absolutely need to get tested. A
  • doctor or nurse will give you a blood test to find out whether your body has developed antibodies to the virus.
  • It usually takes between six weeks and three months for the body to develop antibodies so even if the first test is negative, you should get tested again after three months and again after six months just to be sure

Treatment

  • There is no cure for HIV but there is treatment.
  • People with HIV are living much longer and healthier lives than ever before.
  • It can take 10 years or more to develop AIDS and some people living with HIV are not developing AIDS thanks to advances in the available drugs.
  • AIDS itself does not cause death but it weakens the body’s immune system so that a person has trouble fighting off illnesses.

Parasitic Infections

These are just what they sound like — parasites that pass from one person to another during sexual activity. These tiny bugs like to hide in and around pubic hair, and they can move from one person to another simply from rubbing each other skin-to-skin. Parasites can also pass from sharing clothing, wet towels and bedding. Although they can be a nuisance, they are completely curable with medicated shampoos and creams.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, or Trich is a fairly common STI that is caused by very tiny parasites that can be passed from one person to another. It can infect the vagina, urethra, bladder and cervix

How do you get it

  • From penis-to-vagina intercourse with an infected partner.
  • From vulva-to-vulva contact with an infected partner.
  • From contact between the genitals and wet towels, wet clothing or toilet seats (these parasites can live outside of the body in warm, damp or moist environments)

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Keep clean – Wash or bathe daily.
  • Wear clean cotton underwear.
  • Sleep without underwear to air out your genitals.
  • Wipe from the front of the vulva to the back after going to the bathroom.
  • Peeing after you have sex.
  • Avoid bath oils, bubble bath, feminine deodorant sprays, strong soaps, scented tampons, tight pants or underwear, and nylon underwear or pantyhose.

Symptoms

  • Many people, will not have any symptoms of trich.. If you do get symptoms, they will usually appear within a week of infection (though they can take a month or longer to appear).
  • A foamy yellow or green discharge from the vagina.
  • A foul or musty smelling discharge from the vagina.
  • Burning or itching around the vagina.
  • Burning when you pee.
  • A mild discharge from the penis.
  • Irritation or redness at the top of the penis.

Testing

  • To test for trich, your doctor or nurse will give you a physical examination to look for signs of the infection.
  • They will also take a sample of fluid from the vagina or penis to send to the lab for testing

Treatment

  • Easily curable with antibiotics.
  • While on medication, avoid having sex and make sure your partner also receives treatment.

Scabies

Scabies are tiny mites that burrow under the surface of the skin and lay eggs (they are so tiny that you cannot see them unless you use a microscope).

They like to burrow in warms areas of the body such as the folds of skin on the elbows, knees, wrists, bum, waist, breasts, penis, and between the fingers.

How do you get it

  • Direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
  • Sharing infected clothing, towels, or bedding.

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.
  • Keep clean –Wash or bathe daily.
  • Wear clean clothing after you shower or bathe.
  • Don’t share bedding, towels or clothing.

Symptoms

  • Symptoms usually appear three to four weeks after coming into contact with the scabies
  • Intense itching (it usually gets worse at night).
  • Tiny red bumps or red lines appear around the infected areas (folds of skin).

Testing

  • If you think you may have scabies, see your doctor for a visual inspection.

Treatment

  • Scabies is treated with a special lotion that the doctor prescribes.
  • Ordinary shampoo or soap will not kill the lice.
  • Wash all of your bedding, towels and clothing in hot soapy water or get them dry cleaned.
  • You can also put them in plastic bags for a week to contain the lice until they die.

Crabs or Pubic Lice

Crabs or pubic lice are tiny light brown flat insects that nest in pubic hair (under a microscope they look like miniature crabs).

  • They bury their heads into the skin and feed on blood.
  • They multiply and spread by laying their egg sacks in the pubic hair.
  • They can also be found in the chest, armpit and facial hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.

How do you get it

  • Direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
  • Sharing infected clothing, towels, soap, and bedding or sleeping bags (pubic lice can live off of the body in moist environments for up to two days).

How do you prevent it

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Use male and female condoms for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use dental dams or condoms for oral sex.
  • Keep clean – wash or bathe daily.
  • Wear clean clothing after you shower or bathe.
  • Don’t share bedding, towels or clothing.

Symptoms

  • Itching or redness around your genitals.
  • You can see small pin-sized grey or brownish mites in your pubic hair

Testing

  • Pubic lice or crabs can usually be detected from a visual inspection of the genitals or with the help of a magnifying glass.
  • A doctor or nurse will examine your genitals to look for the crabs or small greyish-white eggs that they lay.
  • They may take a skin sample

Treatment

  • Pubic lice or crabs are treated with a shampoo that you can buy at the drugstore or a health clinic.
  • You do not need a prescription to buy it.
  • If the lice are not gone after one washing, reapply it four days later.
  • You can use a fine-toothed comb to scrape the eggs off of your pubic hair.
  • Wash all of your bedding, towels and clothing in hot soapy water or get them dry cleaned.
  • You can also put them in plastic bags for a week to contain the lice until they die.

Fungal Infections

Though not technically an STI, fungal infections are included because they can pass from one person to another through sexual contact. The most common fungal infection is a yeast infection which means your body is producing too much yeast. If you have a yeast infection, it does not mean you are having sex but it does mean that it can be passed along to another person.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is a very common fungal infection caused by overgrowth of candida (or yeast) in the body.

It is not really an STI but is included because it can be spread through sexual contact. Just because a person has a yeast infection does not mean they are having sex.

How do you get it

  • What causes candida to overgrow? It’s different for everyone, but some potential causes are:
  • Stress.
  • Hormonal changes (right before menstruation or from the pill).
  • Illness (if your immune system is weakened).
  • Using antibiotics.
  • Semen inside the vagina.
  • Taking certain birth control pills and steroids.
  • Diet – especially mismanaged sugar levels.
  • Wearing tight and/or synthetic underwear or pants (they trap moisture and heat, creating the perfect environment for candida to grow).
  • Using scented tampons and pads.
  • Using scented bubble bath, soaps, feminine deodorant sprays or powders.
  • Some people are just prone to getting them no matter what they do, and others may never get yeast infections from the above mentioned potential causes.

How do you prevent it

  • Eat a well-balance diet with lots of fiber.
  • Keep your genitals clean and dry (people who are not circumcised should take care to clean properly under the foreskin).
  • Wear loose dry clothing and cotton underwear.
  • Wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom .
  • Pee after sex.
  • Do not use scented tampons and pads or perfume products such as soaps and oils.
  • Use condoms and dental dams

Symptoms

  • Itching and irritation in the vagina and around the vulva.
  • A clumpy white discharge from the vagina that looks like cottage cheese.
  • A yeasty odour from the vagina.
  • Genital itching.
  • A rash on the penis.
  • A slight discharge from the penis

Testing

  • A doctor or nurse will do a visual examination of your genitals.
  • They may take a urine sample to rule out other possibilities and a sample of any discharge to look at under the microscope

Treatment

  • You can buy over-the-counter vaginal creams or tablets at most pharmacies without a prescription.
  • Just follow the directions and apply the cream directly on the infected area or insert a suppository into the vagina.
  • Sometimes the doctor will prescribe a pill you can take or a special cream.
  • For people who frequently get yeast infections, over the counter medications can cause the infections to adapt and resist treatment. The following can help reset the bacterial balance without a strong antibiotic effect:
  • Garlic cloves (whole, NOT crushed) inserted into the vagina.
  • Boric Acid (available at pharmacies) packed into gelatin capsules, inserted into the vagina. DO NOT CONSUME Boric Acid Orally
  • Eating yogurt and also putting yogourt inside the vagina can be helpful to reset the bacterial balance
  • If you are prone to yeast infections you may want to consult a nutritionist and/or naturopath to alter your diet.