The causes of STIs are bacteria, parasites, yeast, and viruses. If you have sex - oral, anal or vaginal intercourse and genital touching - you can get an STI.
Straight or gay, married or single, you are vulnerable to STIs and STI symptoms. Thinking or hoping that your partner does not have an STI is no protection - you need to know for sure. Although condoms, when properly used, are highly effective for reducing transmission of some STIs, no method is foolproof.
How STIs are spread?
STIs are spread predominantly by sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some STIs can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood or blood products.
Many STIs- including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, primarily hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis- can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.
Prevention of STIs
Counselling and behavioural interventions offer primary prevention against STIs (including HIV), as well as against unintended pregnancies. These include:
- comprehensive sexuality education, STI and HIV pre- and post-test counselling
- safer sex/risk-reduction counselling, condom promotion;
- interventions targeted at key populations, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs; and
- education and counselling tailored to the needs of adolescents.
In addition, counselling can improve people’s ability to recognise the symptoms of STIs and increase the likelihood they will seek care or encourage a sexual partner to do so.
Unfortunately, lack of public awareness, lack of training of health workers, and long-standing, widespread stigma around STIs remain barriers to greater and more effective use of these interventions.
Treatment of STIs
Effective treatment is currently available for several STIs.
- Three bacterial STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis) and one parasitic STI (trichomoniasis) are generally curable with existing, effective single-dose regimens of antibiotics.
- For herpes and HIV, the most effective medications available are antivirals that can modulate the course of the disease, though they cannot cure the disease.
- For hepatitis B, immune system modulators (interferon) and antiviral medications can help to fight the virus and slow damage to the liver.
Resistance of STIs - in particular gonorrhoea- to antibiotics has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced treatment options.
The emergence of decreased susceptibility of gonorrhoea to the “last line” treatment option (oral and injectable cephalosporins) together with antimicrobial resistance already shown to penicillins, sulphonamides, tetracyclines, quinolones and macrolides make gonorrhoea a multidrug-resistant organism.
Antimicrobial resistance for other STIs, though less common, also exists, making prevention and prompt treatment critical.