Sexually transmitted infections: what you need to know

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Dating apps are not your friends.

This is according to Annalisa Cunningham, CNP, who has witnessed an increase in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) over the past year.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people with partners that they just don’t know well because they are not in a social environment. Instead, they communicate electronically, ”she said.

Cunningham works at Sanford Health Midtown Family Planning Clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she helps treat and diagnose STIs. Her daily job is also to raise awareness about sex education and STIs, which she says are more common than most people realize.

It is estimated that one in five people in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection, according to a new analysis of the latest data from the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. With STIs so common, it is important to know what they are and how they are spread.

Not everyone has symptoms of an STI

An STI is an infection passed from person to person through sexual contact. The symptoms of infection are different for everyone.

Some people have no symptoms. If there are any symptoms present, they are often mild.

“A lot of people don’t know they have an STI at all,” Cunningham said.

Men may experience urinary discomfort, tingling, or burning. An unusual discharge may also indicate an infection.

Women can experience anything from minor symptoms like a vaginal discharge to something more serious like bleeding or pain after sex.

“Sometimes bleeding during or after sex is a very good indication that you might have chlamydia. If there is any bleeding, you should come for a check-up as this may be your only sign. “

From mild infection to serious illness

When caught early, STIs are relatively easy to treat. Without treatment, an STI can turn into something more serious: a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

“Chlamydia is a very common STI, but over time if left untreated it can lead to disease,” Cunningham said. “It could be scarring of the fallopian tubes, which would lead to infertility.”

The health problems are serious, especially for women. Along with infertility, various diseases can cause organ damage, cancer, or even death.

The consequences are even greater for pregnant women and babies. Untreated syphilis in pregnant women causes infant death up to 40% of the time.

Treatment options available

The good news: Treatment is available for all STIs. The most common – syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea – can be cured with antibiotics.

There is no cure for herpes or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but there are treatments available to reduce the symptoms and your chances of spreading them.

Get tested every year

Those who are sexually active should be screened for STIs annually, Cunningham said. It is also important to get tested if you change partners or if you don’t trust your partner.

Screening may involve a pelvic exam, blood test, urine test, or fluid sample.

“We regularly screen for chlamydia and gonorrhea from a urine sample,” Cunningham said. “It’s not uncomfortable or painful for men and women.

The selection process is fast.

“It’s very simple and we get results overnight or in a day or two,” she said.

STIs are preventable

The best time to talk to your partner about testing is before you start having sex. “If you don’t come in contact with someone else’s infection, you won’t get it,” Cunningham said.

She and other experts recommend using condoms, talking to your partner, and getting regular screenings.

“Nothing is one hundred percent, but you can mitigate it and really lower your risk of getting something.”

Other ways to reduce your risk:

  • To get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is recommended for people aged 11 to 26.
  • Refrain from having sex. It is the most reliable way to avoid an STI.
  • Know your partners. Open and honest conversations can help prevent the spread of infection.

Resources available

The Sanford Health Midtown Family Planning Clinic provides free or discounted services depending on family size and income.

The clinic, sponsored by Sanford Health and the South Dakota Department of Health, offers a variety of services including: exams and screenings, STI testing, treatment, birth control, and pregnancy tests. All clinic visits are confidential.

Learn more

Posted in Family medicine, Healthy living, Internal medicine

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