BC Drug and Poison Information Centre - Poison Control Service 1.800.567.8911           

Overview

 

Definition

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are some of the most widespread infections in the world. STIs affect both men and women, and two-thirds of all STIs occur in people younger than 25 years old.

Sexually transmitted infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Infections that may be sexually transmitted include:

 

 

Causes

Exposure to an STI can occur any time you have sexual contact with anyone that involves the genitals, the mouth (oral), or the rectum (anal). Exposure is more likely if you have more than one sex partner or do not use condoms. Some STIs can be passed by non-sexual contact, such as by sharing needles or during the delivery of a baby or during breast-feeding.  

Complications

In women, STIs can cause a serious infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes (reproductive organs ) called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID may cause scar tissue that blocks the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic abscess, or chronic pelvic pain.

Risks specific to men include infection and inflammation of the epididymis, urethra, and prostate.
 

Tests and Diagnosis

The health care provider will ask questions about your sexual history to help determine your risks for STIs.  They will conduct a physical examination and explain any tests they need to conduct through the exam. 

In women swabs are taken from the cervix for chlamydia and gonorrhea and from the vaginal wall for yeast, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.  A pap smear may be included in the exam. 

In men the health care provider will ask them to provide a urine sample for chlamydia and gonorrhea.  If a man is experiencing symptoms highly suggestive of either of these infections, or has come in because a sex partner has chlamydia or gonorrhea, a urethral swab is done before the urine test.

Blood tests are done for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.

Many STI clinics offer free, confidential STI and HIV testing. Some clinics will see clients on a drop-in basis, although appointments are recommended. Treatment, prescriptions or immunizations may be given, and referrals can be made to appropriate specialists. Information on STIs and HIV, safer sex, and risk reduction is available. The clinic staff is happy to discuss any questions you may have regarding sexual health.
 

Treatment and Drugs

Bacterial STIs can be treated and cured, but STIs caused by viruses usually cannot be cured. You can get a bacterial STI over and over again, even if it is one that you were treated for and cured of in the past.

If the examination or tests indicate an infection, treatment may be started on the same day. Treatments for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis provided free of charge, as is liquid nitrogen treatment for genital warts. Over-the-counter medications may be suggested for some conditions, and prescriptions may be available for initial herpes outbreaks. Hepatitis vaccinations may be offered to clients at risk.

BCCDC has produced Medication Handouts in Engilsh and many other languages. 
 

Prevention

 Preventing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is easier than treating an infection once it occurs.
  • Practice safe sex - condom use reduces the risk of the transmission of STIs.
  • Avoid sexual contact or activity if you have symptoms of an STI or are being treated for an STI.
  • Avoid sexual contact or activity with anyone who has symptoms of an STI or who may have been exposed to an STI.
  • Your risk for an STI increases if you have several sex partners at the same time.
Last Updated: August 29, 2012