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The STI Lottery

By Emma
The STI Lottery

Will you get lucky tonight?

On the pull, up for it, on the prowl, one night stand, f**k a fresher. Sex is probably on your mind, and the likelihood is that you’ll get some at some point. Whilst you may be spending the majority of your lectures weighing up your chances of pulling that hot girl or guy on your course; you probably aren’t spending much too time thinking about what sexual secrets they’re hiding. No, we’re not talking fetishes. We’re talking STIs.

Unfortunately you might get more than you bargained for. According to a new report by the Health Protection Agency: “Of those diagnosed in GUM clinics in 2010, 63% with chlamydia, 54% with genital warts, 47% with gonorrhoea, and 41% with genital herpes were under the age of 25.”

Whether you are a university love god or not, every time you partake in sexual activity with someone without wearing a condom, you have bought yourself a ticket for the metaphorical STI lottery. Alas, there is a much greater possibility of catching one of these than pocketing the Euromillions.

STIs and STDs can be caught through oral, vaginal, and anal sex – whether the man comes or not, and even from sex toys. Fortunately most STIs can be prevented by wearing a condom. So put one on!

If you do have unprotected sex, ensure to get checked out as many STIs can be treated. The longer you leave it the worse it can get, so speed is of the essence. Of course not all STIs can be cured, and so wearing a condom is always going to be the safest way to have sex. It’s really not worth the gamble.

From blood blisters to itching, STIs come with a variety of unpleasant tell-tale signs. The Student Guide has put together a list of common, and not so common, STIs and STDs to bust the myths and help to keep your sexual health in check…

Chlamydia

What is it? The most commonly reported STI in the UK, with a shocking 65% of all new cases being among 16-24 year olds. Chlamydia Trachomatis is a bacteria passed through semen and virginal fluid.

How is it caught? Through genital contact and/or sexual intercourse with someone who is infected.

Symptoms: Scarily, 50% of males and 70% of females have no symptoms. However, signs can appear within one to three weeks of catching it - or may not emerge till much later after the infection has spread to other parts of the body.

Symptoms in females include:

  • Bleeding after sex
  • Pain urinating
  • Spotting or heavy periods
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain

Symptoms in males include:

  • Pain urinating
  • Testicular pain
  • A cloudy discharge from the penis

In both sexes Chlamydia can also cause conjunctivitis (eye infection).

Treatment: It’s the same for both sexes and involves a course of antibiotics. It’s important to have regular check-ups, if Chlamydia is left untreated it can lead to infertility in women.

Genital Warts

What is it? The second most common STI in the UK. They are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can cause warts in both the genital and anus area.

How is it caught? Through genital contact and/or sexual intercourse with someone who is infected.

Symptoms: They’re the same for both men and women and include:

  • Small white or flesh coloured, cauliflower like bumps.

Treatment: It’s the same for both sexes and will only be offered for visible warts.  You will either be given an ointment, have them frozen by your GP or surgically removed. Be careful - some creams weaken latex condoms and even using a condom won’t protect your partner if the warts are exposed.

Gonorrhoea

What is it? Also known as ‘the clap’, it can infect the urethra, cervix, rectum, anus and throat.

How is it caught? By bacteria being passed through semen and vagina fluid during unprotected sex.

Symptoms: Men are more likely to notice symptoms than women, but for both sexes they include:

  • Pain urinating
  • A white/yellow discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Irritation and/or discharge of the anus

Treatment: It’s the same for both men and women and will involve a single antibiotic pill or injection. Watch out - treatment could affect the contraceptive pill, so check with your doctor.

Syphilis

What is it? Probably best known as a Victorian disease, but sadly it’s still around in 2011. In fact, it’s on the increase. Since 1995 syphilis has accounted for 17% of new cases of STIs for the under 25-year-olds.

How is it caught? By the bacteria, Treponema Pallidum, which is passed between people during sex or oral sex, or from infected skin.

Symptoms: Develop in three stages. Primary symptoms usually appear two to seven days after exposure to the virus and lasts two to four weeks. Both men and women have the same symptoms which can include:

Appearance of a small, painless ulcer
Swelling of glands

If untreated, secondary symptoms include:

  • Appearance of a non-itchy rash
  • Flu like systems, including tiredness, headaches, backache
  • Pain urinating
  • Tiredness

Treatment: Syphilis comes in three stages. If caught in stage one or two syphilis can be treated with an antibiotics injection or tablets, lasting up 10 to 14 days. In stage three the infection can be treated the same way but any damage to your body will be permanent.

Genital Herpes

What is it? Technically an STD (sexually transmitted disease) which is caused by a virus, not an infection. There are two types - HSV 1 and HSV 2, both of which can affect the nose and mouth area, as well as the anus and genitals.

How is it caught? By coming into close contact with the infection - not just during sex. Often herpes are at the base of the penis and so even with a condom, they can be caught.

Symptoms: The same for both males and females. The first break out it the worst and can last between two and four weeks but it can come back again years later in the form of a cold sore (which is actually the herpes infection of the mouth).

  • Stinging or tingling in the genitals or anus area
  • Flu like systems, including tiredness, headaches, backache
  • Small fluid filled blisters around the genitals, buttock or thighs.
  • Pain urinating - as urine flows over sores.

Treatment: It’s the same for both sexes - there’s no cure! You may be prescribed antiviral tablets. You can soothe the sores with a cold shower or applying a bag of ice to the sores.

Crabs

What is it? The official name of crabs is Pubic lice. They are tiny blood-sucking insects which live in coarse human body hair, most commonly pubic hair. Adult pubic lice are about 2mm long and are grey-brown in colour. The lice can also be found in the eyelashes or eyebrows, hair on the abdomen or back, and facial hair, such as beards or moustaches.

How is it caught? They are easily passed through close contact with someone who has them. The most common way is during sexual contact but they can also spread by sharing bedding and clothing with an infected person.

Symptoms: Although you may imagine the tell-tale sign would be the horror of seeing insects crawling around your pubic hair, this often isn’t the case, as the lice are tiny and also stay still in the light. If you look closely though, you should see them. Some people may get symptoms straight away whereas for others it can take weeks for symptoms to appear. These include:

  • Itching of the infected area (which often gets worse at night)
  • Black powdery droppings form the lice in underwear
  • Brown eggs on pubic or other body hair
  • Red spots and sores
  • Blue dots or tiny specks of blood on the skin
  • Lice

Treatment: Treatment is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo. It can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy and is also available from your GP or Gum clinic. If pubic lice were caught through sexual contact, any current sexual partners and partners from the previous three months may need to be informed and treated. All bedding, towels and clothing need to be washed on a hot cycle.

HIV

What is it? HIV is a virus (human immunodeficiency virus) which attacks the body’s immune system, leaving you vulnerable to serious life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer. In its late stages the infection can lead to AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome), whereby the immune system shuts down altogether.

How is it caught? Through the exchange of bodily fluids, namely blood or semen, during unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Symptoms: Both men and women may experience primary symptoms within a few weeks of infection:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • A blotchy rash

After these initial symptoms, HIV will not give any further indicators for many years. It is an asymptomatic infection, which silently multiplies and damages the immune system.

Treatment:

There is no cure for HIV, although it can be treated with antiretroviral treatment or combination therapy to reduce and manage the level of HIV in the bloodstream, to slow the progression of the condition.

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