Sexually Transmitted Infections


Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) also known as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) are infections commonly passed on through sexual contact (such as oral or anal sex and vaginal intercourse), exchange of body fluids or from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. These infections could be caused by over 30 pathogens which include viruses, bacteria or parasites with eight of them having the highest incidence of STI’s. While four of them (syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis) are curable, the other four with the highest incidence (hepatitis B, HIV, human papilloma virus, herpes simplex virus) are incurable (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs110/en/).
The World Health Organization estimated that more than 1 million STIs are acquired everyday worldwide. It is also estimated that more than 500m people have genital infection with herpes simplex virus and more than 250m women have human papilloma virus infection (the most important risk factor for cervical cancer). This may be explained by the fact that because not all STIs show symptoms, transmission is easily achieved. Commonly observed symptoms include abdominal pain, genital ulcers, vaginal discharge and urethral discharge or burning in men.
Risk factors for a STI include drug abuse, unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, young age, sexual abuse and sharing of unsterilized needles.
The incurable STIs are better managed with medications that can either modulate the course of the disease or slow the growth of the infectious agent so it doesn’t cause much harm. Antibiotics can be used for the treatment of the curable STIs over a period of time. However, when not effectively treated, STIs can cause complications such as infertility, pelvic pain, problems in pregnancy, eye inflammation, pelvic inflammatory disease and heart disease.
Behavioural interventions offer basic prevention of STIs. This includes not having sexual intercourse, being faithful to one sexual partner who is also faithful and using barriers such as condom. Vaccines can also be used to prevent against human papilloma virus and hepatitis B virus infections.  WHO reports that male circumcision can help reduce a man's risk of acquiring HIV from an infected woman by as much as 60 percent. It also helps provide some protection against other STIs, such as herpes and HPV.

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

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