For Sexual Health Week, we sat down with Dr Belinda Griffiths to talk about why you should be looking after your sexual health.
Why is sexual health important?
Screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is an important part of maintaining your sexual well-being. Maintaining good sexual health is important to prevent avoidable illness. STIs could lead to distressing and painful symptoms, not just for the sufferer but also for their partner.
What is the difference between an STD and an STI?
A sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted illness (STI) is interchangeable. The name is given to infections which are solely, or usually, transmitted by sexual contact.
What symptoms should I look out for?
The most important point to realise is that sexually transmitted infections may be asymptomatic, (meaning there are no symptoms,). The sufferer could be unaware he or she is spreading disease by sexual contact. Symptoms, when they occur, are many and varied.
There may be a pain on passing urine, discharge from the vagina or penis, lower abdominal pain, bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse, ulcers, itching, rashes, lumps and bumps. Not to mention symptoms affecting areas other than the genitals.
Any of the listed symptoms should prompt a visit to a sexual health clinic for testing, which is easy and usually painless, involving the production of a urine sample, the taking of a swab or a blood test.
Failure to treat sexually transmitted infections can lead to infertility and long-term ill-health including dementia.
How often should I have an STI check?
If you have more than one partner or have not been using a condom every time you have sex it is advisable to have a sexual health check on a regular basis. Even if you have no symptoms.
How regularly depends on numerous factors such as the number of partners, partner’s sexual habits, use of (or failure to use) condoms. Those intravenous drug use and sexual encounters abroad.
What are the most common sexually transmitted diseases?
Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea are the most common sexually transmitted diseases; they may present with no symptoms, with pain passing urine or with a yellow discharge. They are diagnosed on a urine sample or swab and are easily treated.
Herpes affecting the mouth (otherwise known as a “cold sore”) is a highly contagious infection and ANY contact with the “cold sore”, be it oral or genital, will transmit this painful and distressing disease.
There is no absolute cure for this disease, although antivirals will help reduce the duration of an outbreak.
NEVER, ever, kiss or have sexual contact with anyone who has a cold sore. Bear in mind that the Herpes virus can be shed even when the sufferer has no symptoms. You can catch the virus despite no known contact with a cold sore.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease which is on the increase; (148% increase between 2008 and 2017).
This has serious health consequences, as if undiagnosed, it can cause long-term neurological and cardiovascular changes which cannot be reversed, even heart failure and dementia. These severe long-term results of untreated syphilis were common years ago, before the discovery of Penicillin. The concern is that they will reappear due to the failure of diagnosis of the disease in its early stages.
Presenting symptoms are an ulcer or ulcers on the genitals at the point of contact with the disease, initially, which may or may not be noticed. This is known as a “chancre” and will arise 9-90 days after sexual contact with an infected partner.
If untreated, the disease progresses to what is known as secondary syphilis, which may present with a skin rash, possibly affecting the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Other signs are mouth ulcers, hair loss, bone pain, swollen lymph glands, hoarseness, kidney disease, deafness, meningitis, eye disease and fever.
Syphilis is easily diagnosed and treated after a simple blood test, but it may take 3 months for the test to be positive after initial contact with an infected partner. If in doubt, have the test.
Genital warts are unsightly swellings which arise in the genital area after contact with an infected partner.
Treatment is painful, with either creams or cryotherapy (freezing therapy.)
The good news is that the incidence of genital warts is reducing due to vaccination of teenage girls with Gardasil to protect against the Human Papilloma Virus, soon to be extended to boys.
HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS. Aids is a list of conditions (including infections and cancers) which occur as a result of damage to the immune system in the body.
Some people are more likely to contract HIV, they are:
Men who have sex with men, anyone who has sex abroad or sex with someone from an area where HIV is common, anyone having a transfusion of blood abroad, sex workers and intravenous drug users.
The earlier HIV is detected and treated, the better the prognosis
If in doubt, have the test.
Symptoms occur 2-4 weeks after contact with an infected person in 40-90% of cases.
Symptoms are non-specific and maybe a rash or glandular fever type illness with enlarged glands and fever.
A blood test may not be positive for 8 weeks after initial contact, but most are positive after 4 weeks.
HIV is now a treatable medical condition and the majority of those living with the virus remain fit and well on treatment.
Despite this, a significant number of people in the United Kingdom are unaware of their HIV infection and remain at risk to their own health and of passing the virus to others.
What to do if you’re worried about your sexual health?
At Fleet Street Clinic, we offer a reliable, full sexual health screening service which includes testing, advice and treatment. Many of our screenings can be done on a walk-in basis. All those concerned can be seen and tested immediately for peace of mind.
Utilising our on-site facilities we are able to provide a fast turnaround for STD & STI results. Our same day services provide on-the-spot results within 20mins. The majority of our blood results in 12 to 24 hours. All other comprehensive testing results in 2 to 4 days.